By Olivia Justus, Photos by Lena Kalantzis
A ball of brown and black fuzz flies through the open door, tripping over her leash. Phoenix’s tongue flops out of her mouth as she jumps on the entire news staff. Minutes later, a coat black as the night sky charges up the staircase with his large body and strong legs. Timmy’s bark vibrates off the walls, commanding the room.
Phoenix, a K-9 for the Marietta Police Department, and Timmy, a K-9 for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, work two very different jobs. Phoenix works as a therapy dog while Timmy helps officers enforce the law.
Phoenix, with her white face mask and light brown eyebrows, is a three-month-old Bernedoodle therapy dog in training. Officer Robert Sury of the Marietta police department is Phoenix’s handler. Sury has been integrating her into local school systems as part of her training.
“She’s been going a couple of days into the schools to be a barrier breaker between myself and the kids,” Sury says, while he unwraps the red leash from under Phoenix’s paws. “I get engaged in conversation with them, so they get to know me and they’re not afraid.”
Phoenix has already made a name for herself in the school system. “All the children love her,” Sury says.
While Phoenix has been bouncing between four schools, she has yet to interact with elementary-age children. Since Phoenix is only a few months old, she has entered her toddler stage of teething. Sury explains that children do not know the difference between teething and an actual bite.
Timmy, a two-year-old black German Shepherd with brown-speckled paws, is a dual-purpose dog. His duties include apprehension, tracking and article search. Deputy Justin Peters of the Marietta Police Department is Timmy’s handler.
The pair has been together since April and inseparable ever since.
“He doesn’t like to be without me,” says Peters as Timmy whines towards the door. “He’s pretty needy.”
Timmy is from a breeder in Germany. He only follows commands spoken in German. “Plotz,” Peters says with a hand motion. Timmy lays his strong body on the ground. Peters repeats Plotz twice, to demand sit and stay. “Gib Laut,” Peters says, asking Timmy to speak.
Phoenix, a native Southeast Ohioan, is from a breeder in Gloucester. The Marietta Police Department chose Bernedoodles— a hybrid blend of a Bernese Mountain Dog and Poodle— as therapy dogs because poodles are hypoallergenic, meaning they do not shed. Bernedoodles are family oriented, protective and love children.
Phoenix’s ears perk up when Sury utters, “Treat.” She sits, lays down and stays, waiting for her reward. Since Phoenix is in her adolescence, she is still learning basic commands.
When Phoenix turns one, she will be inducted into a therapy dog training program, in Franklin County, where she will continue training quarterly. With new skills, she can extend her reach to nursing homes as well.
As a drug dog, Timmy experienced a different regimen. Before Timmy came to Marietta, he went through a four-week pedagogy process. After arriving in his new home, he continued training for six weeks with Peters.
“We’re constantly working on the drug odors,” Peters says.
Timmy and Peters spend their day on Route 77, or elsewhere in Washington County working to disrupt drug trafficking.
“That’s our favorite thing to do,” Peter says. “We are together every day. We like to intercept drugs coming through the county.”
Phoenix’s day looks different than Timmy’s. She gets treats, goes from school to school; meeting children, and gets more treats.
While Phoenix and Timmy are hardworking members of the police force, they get to be normal dogs at the end of the day.
While off duty, Phoenix enjoys chasing the family cat around the house, playing with Sury’s teenage daughter and eating. Timmy likes to spend his leisure time lounging on the couch and playing fetch in the backyard.
Back at the station, it’s time for the K-9 unit to head back to work. Phoenix rushes up the grand staircase only to get the leash wrapped around herself. Timmy takes charge and struts out of the door, awaiting his next drug bust.