Edsel and Eleanor Ford House Director of Landscape Karl Koto poses with Moss, the border collie who’s on goose patrol for the 87-acre lakefront property.

Edsel and Eleanor Ford House Director of Landscape Karl Koto poses with Moss, the border collie who’s on goose patrol for the 87-acre lakefront property.

Photo by Deb Jacques


These dogs perform important jobs for their human companions

By: K. Michelle Moran, Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published November 6, 2019

 Katherine Wallace, of White Lake, poses with her diabetes alert dog, Blaze, inside the OrangeTheory studio in Farmington Hills, where the pair get in a workout each day.

Katherine Wallace, of White Lake, poses with her diabetes alert dog, Blaze, inside the OrangeTheory studio in Farmington Hills, where the pair get in a workout each day.

Photo provided by Katherine Wallace

 Grosse Pointe Farms public safety officer Tim Harris — pictured at Farms City Hall — is the handler for K-9 Duke, a German shepherd who finds drugs, suspects, and lots of love from local schoolchildren.

Grosse Pointe Farms public safety officer Tim Harris — pictured at Farms City Hall — is the handler for K-9 Duke, a German shepherd who finds drugs, suspects, and lots of love from local schoolchildren.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

 Davey, a 10-month-old black Labrador retriever, is being raised as a future Leader Dogs for the Blind guide dog by Deb Donnelly, of Rochester Hills.

Davey, a 10-month-old black Labrador retriever, is being raised as a future Leader Dogs for the Blind guide dog by Deb Donnelly, of Rochester Hills.

Photo by Tiffany Esshaki

METRO DETROIT — Increasingly, dogs aren’t just our best friends — they’re also our aides and co-workers. From police and military dogs to service animals, our furry buddies are showing that they can do a lot more than fetch a ball.

 

Border collie deters congregating geese
With lakefront views, mature trees and tasteful gardens, the 87-acre property of the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores draws visitors of all ages. The expansive grounds are also irresistible to Canada geese.

Geese can get ornery — especially when they’re protecting a nest or goslings — but that’s not their only undesirable trait. According to the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, a single goose can eat up to 4 pounds of grass and produce 3 pounds of feces daily. It’s not just unpleasant — goose fecal matter can contain E. coli, which can cause gastrointestinal problems.

Since about 2003, the Ford House has “employed” a border collie to discourage geese from taking up permanent residence. Four-year-old Moss, whose handler is Ford House Director of Landscape Karl Koto, is the fourth such dog to play this role, following in the pawprints of predecessors Ellie, Hank and Shiner.

Koto, who has worked at the Ford House for the last five years, also worked with Ellie. In the period between Ellie’s retirement and Moss’ arrival, Koto said, there would easily be 200 geese on the lawn on any given day. Since then — not so much.

“We go around (the property) first thing in the morning, and they’ll disappear,” Koto said of the geese.

Moss has no intention of hurting the birds — “his instinct is to herd them,” Koto said — but the geese don’t see him that way. Koto said his stance reminds them of a predator. When Moss sees geese, he drops down and starts to stalk them. It’s a behavior specific to breeds like the border collie; Koto said other breeds can be used to discourage geese, but geese have the greatest fear of dogs like Moss. He said the geese “can see him from across the meadow,” which they take as their cue to leave.

Moss won’t run toward geese until Koto gives him the command, although he will stop and stare at them.

Moss came to the estate just over two years ago from a breeder and trainer in Alberta, Canada. Koto and Moss have been together ever since, because Moss goes home with Koto at the end of his workday.

The Ford House hosts everything from school groups to symphony orchestra concerts, so Koto said they needed a dog that “would be an ambassador” and welcome attention. Moss’ temperament fit the bill.

When he’s not roaming the grounds, Moss accompanies Koto on his other rounds.

“He’s just like any other staffer — he’ll come to meetings with me,” Koto said. “If a meeting goes too long, he’ll collapse by the door and let out a big sigh.”

At home, Moss is a family dog who likes hanging out with Koto and his 9-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son. But unlike Koto’s other dog, a female husky-shepherd mix, Moss has no interest in toys.

“We’ve tried,” said Koto. “He doesn’t play with them. His reward is working.”

 
The nose knows when a seizure is coming
Not all working dogs get to clock out at the end of the day. Blaze is an alert dog who lets his owner know when she might be in trouble with her Type 1 diabetes.

“Since the age of 9 when I was diagnosed, I have been dealing with seizures when my blood sugar goes low. For me, over time I lost the ability to feel my lows, so by the time I felt it, it was too late and I would have a seizure,” said Katherine Wallace.

She’s more likely to have blood sugar levels that dip too low than levels that go too high — even a particularly scary movie can send her sugar diving. Blaze, who was trained by Lily Grace Service Dogs in Idaho, can smell her sugar crash before she knows it’s coming, and he snaps into action.

“Blaze was trained based on my saliva samples,” Wallace said, explaining that his official duty is to alert her when her blood sugar goes above 150 milligrams per liter or below 80 milligrams per liter. “He paws at me to let me know something is wrong, but he’s positively rewarded with treats whenever he alerts, so if I don’t respond, he will jump up or he will jump on me while I’m sleeping to get my attention.”

So why is a dog a better medical tool than traditional diabetes monitoring devices? Wallace said the answer is easy: For her, technology has always failed more often than not.

“Blaze actually beats the (continuous glucose monitor) readings by sometimes up to 30 minutes in advance. He retrieves juice and emergency meds and, when told, if I have a seizure, he lays down under my head or lays on my chest and licks my face to wake me up.”

Before she met Blaze in 2017, Wallace said, she was having between three and six seizures a month. Since then, she’s had just three seizures in the past two years. That’s given her a lot more freedom to live the life she wants without worry. She’s an athlete and fitness instructor, and having Blaze means she can work out safely.

“I had to be vocal about what it is Blaze does for me,” she said. “Once I educated (others) about Blaze being a real working dog who was trained to perform a specific task only for me and my disability, everyone has been welcoming and most are eager to learn more.”


K-9 takes a bite out of crime
A gift from Grosse Pointe Farms businesswoman and philanthropist Gretchen Valade enabled the Farms Public Safety Department to get its first police K-9, German shepherd Duke. Officer Tim Harris, who has worked for the department since June 2006, was selected to be Duke’s handler, and he fondly remembers getting the dog as a 13-month-old puppy on May 5, 2014.

“It’s been life-changing,” Harris said. “It’s the single best thing I’ve done, work-wise. Having the dog has been the most rewarding and challenging experience I’ve ever had.”

Duke is trained in narcotics detection and tracking, the latter meaning he can follow human scent and locate a person. He’s also certified in apprehension, which means that he can be sent after someone who’s believed to be a threat, and he’ll “grab whatever is available” on the person — whether that’s an arm, back or foot — to stop that person, Harris said.

In a span of three weeks, Harris said, Duke found six people, including a mentally ill person who had accidentally entered the wrong house. Another time, Duke found three suspects wanted for armed robbery, as well as the gun used in the crime.

“He’s done all kinds of incredible work,” said Harris, who gets called on cases in Detroit as well as the other Grosse Pointes and Harper Woods because of Duke. “He’s found a lot of people. His success rate is very high for a K-9.”

When a suspect is hiding inside a building or running from police, Duke is able to locate or reach the suspect first, and Harris said suspects are more likely to surrender when a K-9 is involved because they don’t want to get bitten.

“He’s more valuable (in these situations) than another officer, for sure,” Harris said. “He keeps all of the officers safe. He’s the first one through. He’s between me and that person with bad intentions.”

Even when he’s just hanging around the station, Duke plays an important role: relieving stress.

“Everybody might not like me, but everybody likes the dog,” Harris said. “The people at work love having Duke around.”

Much of what Duke does isn’t catching criminals — it’s interacting with the community. Harris said he routinely does demonstrations for students and community groups, as well as during special events.

Harris is a regular at Starbucks, where he often hands out Duke baseball cards to youths, many of whom also want to take a photo with the dog. The friendly pooch breaks down barriers between the police and the public.

“Every run is an opportunity for somebody to meet Duke,” Harris said. “I don’t even feel like I’m at work. I’m just playing with my dog.”

He said Duke gets excited just seeing Harris getting out his uniform.

“Everything for him is a game,” said Harris, who rewards Duke’s efforts with his favorite ball or tug-of-war. “He loves going to work because he gets to play.”

The bond between K-9 and handler is a profound one, and for good reason: The two spend more time with each other than they do with anyone else.

“I can’t really put it into words,” Harris said. “He’s not a pet — he’s my partner. I can’t imagine my life without him — nor do I want to. The only other people who understand the bond between a handler and a K-9 partner is another handler.”

Duke and Harris train every day, even when Harris isn’t working.

“That just makes him better,” Harris said. “Our success rate is a reflection of that training. I don’t want to have a mediocre dog — I want the best dog. … It’s not just me who depends on him — the community depends on him.”

            
Learning Labs: Leader Dogs for the Blind
Since 1939, Leader Dogs for the Blind has bred, cared for, trained and provided guide dogs to tens of thousands of people with vision impairment and other conditions that hinder independent mobility.

Their bandanas and vests dotted with official regalia are a sure indicator that you’re in the presence of an official “good dog.”

There are few people who know Leader Dogs as well as Deb Donnelly. The Rochester Hills resident has been working and volunteering with the organization for decades, donning a range of hats, from puppy raiser to puppy counselor, which is an organizer who wrangles the puppy raisers and shares expertise on the organization’s positive reinforcement training regimen. She’s a certified trainer too.

Donnelly is working with Davey at the moment. The 10-month-old black Labrador retriever is being trained in basic obedience and being “familiarized” with people through outings like going to the grocery store, worship services, the airport, and even movies or live concerts. The goal is to get him ready to start his official guide dog training this winter. Davey is the 23rd pup Donnelly has raised.

“I love starting that conversation with the dogs,” she said. “(Another dog) Keane is a singer. He’s very well-versed in the ‘Labrador Lament.’ He would sing and sing and I couldn’t just tell him to stop; I needed to figure out what he needed. It turns out he was too warm in his bed. I had too many blankets and pillows and warm stuff for the summer. And Davey is a shopper. He likes to reach up and grab things.”

Those little quirks give trainers some insight as to what a dog needs in order to be an optimal working dog. They can also be indicators as to what a dog’s personality is like when they’re off the clock. Because once that vest is off, there’s time to dig and run and play and snuggle.

“It’s like a whole different dog when the vest is off. We’re different too. I act a little differently, hold the leash a little longer,” Donnelly said. “But you know they like what they do, because you can’t force a dog to guide. They’ll stop and refuse to go, won’t put the vest on. If they like it, their head will be up and their tail will be wagging. They’ll be confident because they know they’ve done good. And then later, if they’re not as excited anymore, it’s about time for them to retire.”

Interested in volunteering to raise a future Leader Dogs for the Blind puppy? Learn more at the next puppy raiser orientation 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12, at the organization’s Rochester Hills campus. Call organizer Laura Fisher at (248) 218-6422 or email her at lfisher@leaderdog.org.