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K-9 Security for Arizona Hospitals

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  • K-9 Security for Arizona Hospitals

    Thought this article was pretty interesting...

    Man, beast are Rx for security

    Lisa Nicita
    The Arizona Republic
    Feb. 4, 2008 12:00 AM

    When a road-rage suspect fled police and hid inside Banner Thunderbird Medical Center in November, he had no idea Glenn and Rocky were on the case.

    Who knew a medical center would have a security K9 team?

    With the Phoenix campus in lockdown, the two- and four-legged partners searched corridors and helped drive the suspect out of the hospital to waiting police.

    Glenn Alderman and Rocky are both security officers for the hospital. The pair are part of Banner's fleet of 12 canine security teams at the health-care provider's facilities around the Valley. The security teams have been around for about 15 years, but with the popularity, and cuddly nature, of therapy dogs in recent years, they've been overshadowed.

    Their importance is not overlooked. Richard Ortiz, the first canine handler at Banner Thunderbird, is the senior manager for security at the campus. Ortiz said the dogs' presence is priceless.

    "When you come into a room with a dog, everyone's attention is on the dog," he said. "Security's big role is to oversee the safety and welfare of our patients. I have to be able to mitigate any problem so it does not interrupt our health-care obligations."

    To help ensure that safety, the dogs chosen for the security teams are the cream of the crop. Banner purchases them from a California company, which travels to Europe to handpick each dog. The company also sells dogs to police departments around the country.

    The dogs come trained, at a cost of up to $8,000 an animal. Once the canine arrives, an officer is trained to create a well-meshed team.

    Auggie Rosales, 38, of Gilbert, was drawn to the canine security program because of his love of dogs. He already had two bichons frises. One was serving as a therapy dog when a canine security position became available at Mesa's Banner Desert Medical Center in June 2005.

    Rosales was between jobs and applied for the position.

    "It's a pretty thorough process," he said.

    Officials interviewed Rosales and investigated his home life. Officers take home their canine companions at the end of their shifts. They feed them, groom them and take them to the veterinarian, just like any other pet.

    A review board checks into applicants' other pets to see if they'll be compatible. It asks about kids.

    Handlers also are trained to communicate with their dogs. Commands are given in languages that are less common than Spanish and English to ensure that the dog obeys only its handler. Officials with the program wouldn't reveal the languages for security reasons.

    "That dog is their equipment," Ortiz explained.

    When the dogs are on duty, they are not to be petted or offered snacks by anyone other than their handlers.

    It's a strict gig. Even the therapy dogs know that their canine security colleagues are a little different. Michael Roselius, canine-program director at Banner Desert Medical Center, said the therapy and security dogs are kept away from each other during shift changes.

    "Each dog thinks this is his campus," Roselius said. "They'll bark at the other dogs. You can't change that, but it scares the bejesus out of everybody because it's a loud bark."

    Roselius said more hospitals are becoming interested in canine security. Banner once was the only hospital group that provided such protection, but Scottsdale Healthcare now offers it as well, according to Roselius.

    "They (the dogs) are a huge visual deterrent," he said.

    The canines, sometimes German shepherds, Czech shepherds or Belgian Malinoises, are effective at helping to calm patients with aggression or behavioral problems.

    "They see the dog and they settle down," Roselius said.

    The dogs also are trained to detect explosives and, like Rocky, apprehend suspects.

    Rosales said it's rewarding to know that his colleagues rely on him and his dog, Rommel, for security.

    And, he said, it's nice to lift the spirits of doctors and nurses who may have had a bad night in the emergency room.

    It's a different type of security job, and Rosales likes it that way.

    "When you think of security, you think of the guy walking around turning doorknobs all night, with a flashlight," he said. "Hospital security is totally different. Every day is something new."
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