TERRE HAUTE —
K-9 Officers Jasper, Luka, Diesel and Carón didn’t like the snarls and growls coming from a “burglar” on Monday morning at Sarah Scott Middle School.
The sharp teeth of the four police dogs proved that a bite is worse than a bark when they latched onto the bulky black bite suit worn by Tony Smodilla in a demonstration by the Terre Haute Police Department’s K-9 unit.
A gymnasium full of students cheered when each dog caught “burglar” Smodilla after he made aggressive sounds and gestures.
But the students weren’t all cheering because they were glad to see Smodilla, the school’s media specialist, getting bested by the dogs.
They were glad to see that Smodilla was protected from the sharp teeth of the dogs by the bite suit that they helped purchase for the police department.
The students raised more than $1,900 during this school year to purchase the bite suit for THPD’s K-9 unit by hosting fundraising events.
THPD has six K-9 teams. Sgt. Terry John works with Jasper. Sgt. Todd Haller works with Diesel. Officer Adam Loudermilk is teamed with Luca. Ryan Adamson works with Carón. New K-9 Officers Justin Sears and Brent Heaton work with Arie and Bleky.
John, Haller, Loudermilk and Adamson showed how their dogs can subdue a suspect during Monday’s demonstration. Principal Greg Gauer also recounted that when he was wearing the borrowed (and somewhate smelly) bite suit last fall during another demonstration, he could feel the bite of the dog through the padding. However, “bad buy” Smodilla indicated that he never felt the teeth though the new suit’s thicker padding.
The school’s K-9 Crew, sponsored by seventh-grade language arts teacher Karen Stout, led some of the fundraising events as it built a relationship with THPD officers. After learning that the K-9 unit was using a bite suit borrowed from an agency in a nearby county, the students undertook the project of buying a new bite suit.
The students, like many in the Terre Haute community, felt a connection to THPD through some of the tragedies that occurred in 2011.
Stout explained that the first tragedy came with the loss of K-9 Ben, who had unknown health issues. Although his time with the THPD was brief, Ben was a much-loved member of the department and his family. Then shortly after losing Ben, the THPD suffered the loss of Officer Brent Long and the injury of Long’s K-9 partner, Shadow.
“It was a no brainer,” Stout said. “Sarah Scott Middle School had to become involved to show our appreciation for the officers and K-9s who, on a daily basis, risk their lives.”
At a fundraiser last fall, SSMS started selling wristbands to raise awareness and funds for the THPD K-9 unit. Throughout the year, teachers at SSMS and sister school Chauncey Rose Middle School, were able to wear blue jeans on specified days for a $5 donation -- with the funds going to the bite suit.
On Feb. 3, the THPD K-9 unit visited the middle school during an assembly and demonstrated just what the K-9 officers could do. Wearing the borrowed bite suit, SSMS principal Gauer got to experience the wrath of a K-9 officer.
On Feb. 14, the school also had a Valentine’s Day spaghetti luncheon and sold tickets for $5 with the proceeds going to the bite suit. Much to the delight of the students, Stout said, K-9 handlers and K-9 Officer Jasper made an appearance at that luncheon and interacted with the students.
Then in March, raffle tickets were sold for a chance to win a 15-pound Easter basket tub full of snack items with the proceeds going to the bite suit. A few donations were also received.
By April, enough funds had been raised to purchase the bite suit from the Vohne Liche Kennels in Denver, Ind. THPD gets all of its K-9 officers from that well-known canine company.
During the assembly, Gauer commended the students and staff for their fundraising efforts, and he said SSMS plans to continue the support and partnership with the THPD K-9. Plans are already underway for next year.
Adamson said the department intends to maintain a friendly relationship with the students, who may only see officers up close in times of distress or when officers are making an arrest.
“This is a way for us to come in and break those barriers,” Adamson said. “This isn’t about us taking the bite suit and running. We will develop this relationship for years to come.”
Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at (812) 231-4254 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.