St. Clair Shores K-9 officer helping to raise therapy puppy

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published February 1, 2019

 Starr, a black German shepherd puppy, is being raised by St. Clair Shores Police K-9 Officer Tom Price and his family for Prevention Concepts and Solutions in Romeo.

Starr, a black German shepherd puppy, is being raised by St. Clair Shores Police K-9 Officer Tom Price and his family for Prevention Concepts and Solutions in Romeo.

Photo provided by Officer Tom Price

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — There’s a new furry friend in Officer Tom Price’s life — at least for the next few months.

Price, the St. Clair Shores Police Department K-9 officer who was partnered with K-9 Axe, is working with Prevention Concepts and Solutions in Romeo, raising a puppy to be a therapy dog for veterans or a K-9 for another police officer.

“Ever since Axe passed away, we’ve been getting the support from the community, coming in, offering cards, donations to the department for K-9s, for the memorial we want to do for all the K-9s we’ve had from the department,” said Price.

One of those who came to the department was state Sen. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, who offered a tribute for Axe’s service at the department Dec. 14. Price said Lucido recommended that Price reach out to Prevention Concepts and Solutions, which works to improve the quality of life for veterans, first responders and others through canine-assisted therapy and activities, combined with mental fitness training and donating specially trained police K-9s to law enforcement, and psychiatric service, emotional support and therapy dogs to veterans.

Axe, who had been with Price since 2016, was killed in the line of duty Nov. 4.

Price said that the group offered him a new dog to replace Axe, but he said that while he appreciated the offer, St. Clair Shores police has a “tried and true system” through its training group, K-9 ATF, to select and purchase its police dogs. He kept in contact with Prevention Concepts and Solutions, however, and when he and his family were driving down to Florida over the holidays, he got a text from co-founder and chief operating officer Jason Foltz.

“They sent me a text with Starr and her brother (and) said, ‘We need puppy raisers,’” Price said.

Starr, a black German shepherd puppy, almost caused them to turn right around, he joked.

Instead, “We came back on New Year’s Eve … dropped the kids off at the house and drove to Romeo.”

The Prices are helping to raise the puppy, who was named for Fox 2 Detroit meteorologist Jessica Starr, who died Dec. 12.

Price said that although Starr won’t be his police K-9 or therapy dog, having her as part of his family for five months is helping them as well.

“She is becoming an important part of our family as part of the healing process,” he said. “When we picked her up, it’s like, oh my gosh, we’re missing something in our family.”

Foltz and David Dudek founded Prevention Concepts and Solutions in 2012 after witnessing and experiencing devastation caused by untreated or undertreated substance abuse and mental illness to focus on alternative approaches to healing and recovery.

“We provide services and support to veterans, first responders and others in the community,” Foltz said.

He said that Lucido reached out to him, asking him to see what the organization could do for Price in the wake of Axe’s death.

“It made me realize that maybe their family would be a good fit in our puppy-raising program. Maybe (it would) fill a void they were feeling from Axe,” he said. “That was our hope, that the puppy would fill a void, not replace Axe.”

In training the puppy for the organization’s therapy or K-9 programs, Price said that they are responsible for the basic obedience and socialization of Starr. When she is returned to the organization around May, Foltz said that Starr will be teamed with a group of veterans who will continue her training and, in doing so, receive benefits from the dog in that way.

“Canines can touch people’s lives in a lot of different ways,” Foltz said. “With this puppy ... she’s been able to touch their family and kids in the school districts. When we get the puppy back, it will touch several veterans’ lives.”

The organization is donating three dogs to law enforcement in March. The puppies, including Starr, raised by Prevention Concepts and Solutions, become either law enforcement dogs or service dogs for veterans, depending on their temperament as they mature.

“At Starr’s age (the important thing is) just getting her out and socializing her. Exposing her to every situation possible, and that’s what Tom’s doing right now,” Foltz said. “Some of our participants will actually need a service dog, so the dog they’re working with will actually become theirs.”

Price said they’ve been taking Starr most places that he and his family go to get her used to riding in a car, meeting people and generally behaving around others.

“It’s going to be a family dog, but you still want to teach it the simple things so it’s a well-behaved dog,” Price said.

While it may seem like it will be hard to give Starr up after about five months, Price said he doesn’t think it will be too difficult.

“She’s going to make somebody as happy as I was,” he said.

And in March, Price will go pick out his own new K-9 partner. Similar to the process of how he picked Axe to be his partner, Price will go with other members of his training group down to Ohio on a Sunday and take a look at dogs bred in Germany.

“I’m looking for a dog that’s got the ability to do the job,” he said.

The officers look for what they call “ball drive” in a dog: A ball is thrown out into a field, and the dog goes and retrieves it. When the dog returns, the ball is thrown again, but this time, the dog is distracted so it doesn’t see where the ball is headed. Price said they look for a dog that searches for a ball and doesn’t give up. Then they take the dogs into different situations, confronting them with uneven floors, stairs and other obstacles, seeing how each individual dog reacts.

“If they’re timid, if they’re reluctant to do the basic stuff,” it won’t be the right dog, he said.

No new dog will replace Axe, Price said.

“You can’t go in and replace what, to me, was perfect,” he said. “I’m going to go find the best partner that will fit with my personality and will fit with the job.”

Prevention Concepts and Solutions has donated three dogs to law enforcement and four dogs as service animals in the past 12 months. To learn more, visit preventionconceptsinc.org.

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