Lakeview adds K-9 units to everyday school life

By: Alyssa Ochss | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published September 7, 2023

 Gator the chocolate lab performs some of his duties in Lakeview High School.

Gator the chocolate lab performs some of his duties in Lakeview High School.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

 Gator the chocolate lab walks a hallway at Lakeview High School.

Gator the chocolate lab walks a hallway at Lakeview High School.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


ST. CLAIR SHORES — Lakeview Public Schools will be introducing K-9 units this school year to keep students safe and prevent anything dangerous from coming into the school buildings.

The dogs will be used to detect firearms, explosives and narcotics. The schools will have two dogs and they will be in school every day of the year, Lakeview Superintendent Karl Paulson said. The dogs will also be at certain events.

A newsletter with a paragraph outlining the hiring and the introduction of the dogs was sent out to all families. Paulson later said parents have pretty much been on board with more procedures to keep students safe.

“They’ll (the dogs will) spend more time in secondary schools than elementary or preschool,” Paulson said. “But we’ll use them at different times in the whole district.”

The school district is not expecting any immediate threats to their students, he said.

“The idea (is) that we’re giving them a negative incentive not to do that,” Paulson said. “Your higher confidence level of getting caught should help you make a better choice, that’s the hope.”

He went on to say that he hopes they never catch a person with firearms or dangerous items.

“But in the times we live in we’re going to say one more method to try to prevent that from happening, we’re going to utilize that,” Paulson said.

Gregory P. Guidice, president and CEO of Zebra K9, said students will most likely end up embracing the dog because they know its job is to protect them.

“When the dog isn’t actively working, it’s a dog, and so it’s able to be pet,” Guidice said. “So there’s a social-emotional component to it.”

According to an email, Zebra K9 also services hospitals, businesses and others. They use German shepherds and Labrador retrievers, but Guidice said they use Labs in pretty much 100% of the schools they service.

“A Lab is a pet, and when people and students see it, they see it as a pet. They’re not afraid to approach it. They’re not afraid to let the dog get near them,” Guidice said.

He said this is purposeful. If a student is carrying a dangerous item, the closer the dog gets to them the better.

Guidice said the dog handlers are typically retired military personnel or law enforcement officers. Dawn Zonca is the handler for Lakeview and the dog for the first month will be Gator, a 17-month-old chocolate Lab. Gator will be replaced by a permanent dog that the students will get to name.

“Here at Lakeview, Dawn, the handler, was a handler for 15 years with the Michigan State Police,” Guidice said. “So she retired from Michigan State Police as a K-9 handler and then we hired her.”

The dog will spend more time socializing than working in the first couple of days for students to get to know the new dog and handler, Guidice said. Paulson added that the dog will also be introduced at assemblies.

There are already systems in place to protect students and staff in Lakeview schools. Those include locking the doors to the outside, buzzing in guests at the front door, multiple cameras in the buildings and a system called BluePoint.

“Which is the ability for any of our staff members who are carrying a fob to hold two buttons down and initiate a lockdown in the school,” Paulson said.

Pushing the key fob buttons will activate an announcement, and alarms that will not stop until someone manually stops them. Emergency services are also contacted when the buttons are pressed. It allows staff members to immediately take action if they see something suspicious in the hallways or around the schools.

Paulson is not worried about the need to have such procedures in place at the schools. He mentioned that the fire doors are made so they will not burn through for 90 minutes, when fire drills are made to get students out of the schools in 45 seconds.

“But why do we do it?” Paulson said. “Well, because it’s safer. If we can build it that way and you’re going to keep that for 100 years, let’s build it that way. I look at this (safety procedures) the same way.”

He reiterated that he hopes no one ever tries to walk in with a gun.

“But if they do, we’ve got a procedure in place that will prevent them from getting in at least for a few minutes with a locked door and some process that keeps them from getting in,” Paulson said.