When Uniontown police K-9 Officer Michael C. Garrow Sr. talks about his partner, police dog Leo, the law enforcement veteran and lifelong dog lover doesn’t try and restrain his smile.
“He is a good dog and a good police officer,” Garrow says, as Leo lays, looking restless and ready to go, on a mat in the corner of Garrow’s office at the Uniontown Area High School.
Garrow, who works as the school resource officer for Uniontown Area School District, said that Leo and other police dogs like him are a boon to law enforcement and said that police dogs will continue to be used by more law enforcement agencies across the country as their value is recognized.
Garrow said he started training dogs nearly four decades ago and later became a certified dog trainer after attending the West Virginia Canine College in Buchannon, W.Va., in 1987.
Shortly after, he opened Garrow Canine Training in Charleroi, which offers obedience classes for pets as well as specialized training for police dogs. He said he has trained many of the police dogs working in the region today.
Police dogs, which were first used by law enforcement in New York City in 1907, have grown in popularity in recent decades, and service dogs are now also used by the military as well as other branches of government, including the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives.
Garrow said that after selecting the right animal, the training for a police dog is broken into different categories, the first of which is the most difficult.
“The patrol training is much more difficult because it entails so much more,” Garrow said, noting that police dogs undergo extensive training for months at a time before they are moved into service.
Garrow said that the patrol training consists of advanced obedience classes, tracking, searches and criminal apprehension.
Searches are then broken into categories, including searching buildings for suspects, searching outdoor areas for suspects and searches specifically designed to recover evidence.
“You want your dog to not only be able to track down the suspect but find the gun or other evidence that he might have tossed while running,” Garrow said.
Other training consists of specialized skill training, including drug detection or bomb detection.
And police work isn’t the only way dogs help contribute to emergency services.
Roger Victor, chief field investigator for the Fayette County Coroner’s office, said he has been working as a cadaver dog handler for nearly two decades.
Victor and his dog, Lady, have been called out for body searches five times in recent years and on four occasions, Lady has successfully found the human remains.
“She is trained for water and does very well,” Victor said.
He said that he trains Lady by using the scent of a cadaver and putting it inside of a tennis balls, which are then used in training exercises.
“She found a fetus that had been buried in a yard. She found a man’s body in the Yough. She is a real help,” Victor said.
In addition to the cadaver dog, other service dogs are used by the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department, which has a team of handlers and dogs for special rescue operations.
And Garrow said that the Fayette County Drug Task Force may begin using a police dog in the coming months.
In addition to Uniontown, police dogs are used by Brownsville police, Southwest Regional police, Masontown police and the state police in Fayette County.
Masontown police Chief Joseph Ryan said that he is happy to have a K-9 unit among his ranks, noting that he worked as a K-9 handler himself in the early 1990s.
“We didn’t have a police dog for a long time after that, but we have now had one for the last three years and it is a big help,” Ryan said.
He said that officer Mike Yeager and K-9 Brony have proved invaluable time and again.
“From drug incidents to search to just providing a mere presence, Brony is a big part of our department,” Ryan said. “I don’t work midnight too often any more, but the guys tell me that when the K-9 rolls in barking in the back of the Jeep, they can bring an immediate calm to a situation.”
Uniontown police Chief Jason A. Cox said that Garrow and Leo compliment one another well, and also provide a considerable amount of assistance to the entire police department.
“Officer Garrow and Leo, and K-9 Sheiko before him, have been a valuable asset to us and to surrounding departments,” Cox said. “There are things that the dogs can do that we cannot and they command a presence of calm when they are utilized.”
Uniontown police are working to introduce a second K-9 officer and police dog in the coming months.
Garrow said that during his years as a K-9 officer, he has worked with four dogs – Ajax, Goldie, Sheiko and Leo – and said that Leo, a Dutch Shepard, will likely be his final dog as he nears retirement.
Whether he is commanding Leo in Dutch to “bliven” or “stay,” or he is letting him decimate a plastic water bottle just for the fun of it, the bond between animal and master is clear.
After the work harness and police vest come off, Garrow said Leo, who is capable of running down a suspect, tackling him and holding him until police can take him into custody, becomes just a regular house pet.
“He is loved and treated just as a pet in our home,” Garrow said. “He spends time with me and my wife and our grandchildren. He is a good dog.”
On this particular day, Garrow glanced down at Leo while recalling an incident from just a few hours earlier.
He said that other officers in Uniontown were tied up on some calls when he heard a report on the police radio of a domestic disturbance at a Uniontown residence.
Garrow said he and Leo responded to the incident, and when they arrived he opened the passenger door to his police Jeep and instructed Leo to “bliven.”
While he spoke with several residents regarding the matter and tried to assess the situation, Garrow said that Leo remained on guard just inside the Jeep, watching the entire incident transpire and ready to act on command, or if he sensed Garrow was in danger.
Thankfully, on this day, that didn’t happen.
“I turn around and look, and I know he is always going to be right there, watching my back,” Garrow says, as Leo gets up from his bed and stands next to him. “He’s a good partner.”