By Patti Shaffer
Did you know that dogs were used in law enforcement as early as the Middle Ages? During those times bloodhounds were used for hunting down outlaws. It wasn’t, however, until 1869 in Europe that dogs were first used for law enforcement on a large scale. It was Belgium that introduced the first organized police dog service program followed by Austria-Hungary and then Germany—where experiments in dog breeding and training took place. It was there that the German shepherd was selected as the ideal breed for police work, and in 1920 the first dog training school was opened.
Today, police dogs, known as “K-9” or “K9” (meaning “canine”) are in widespread use across the United States and are used as a means of law enforcement for a variety of duties. And the most common police dog is still the German shepherd.
Here in Smithfield, in late 2007 and early 2008 former Police Chief William McGarry began the process to implement a K9 Unit. First, there was an interview process where those interested in becoming a “K9 Handler” were given the opportunity to apply—as long as they had at least three years of service with the department.
After interviews with a panel were completed, Patrol Officer Mike Gilmore was selected as the department’s first ever K9 Handler, with the stipulation that he take care of the entire program.
“Now as a K9 Handler, I first had to find the right dog,” says Gilmore. “Secondly, I needed to find the training, for both me and the dog, which we did, with the RI State Police (RISP). I also had to help select the best equipment for outfitting the specialized K9 vehicle; select the appropriate uniform, and equipment such as leashes, muzzles and collars; design the K9 patch; and help to construct a K9 policy that met with federal standards. Chief McGarry instructed me, ‘Whatever it takes, get it done.’
Gilmore bought a Slovakish German shepherd from the Czech Republic named Paxson. He was shipped to Ohio at one year old, kenneled with a broker for a few weeks, and thoroughly checked by a veterinarian before Gilmore picked him up at T.F. Green Airport.
“I took him home to meet my family,” says Gilmore. “My kids were young at the time and he immediately accepted them as his ‘pack.’ In order to bond with Paxson, I slept on the floor with him for the first three nights.
One week later, they began their training together. “We did the patrol aspect of the training first, a 10 week course for a total of 400 hours. Paxson then became certified,” says Gilmore. “The patrol phase covered handler protection. As the K9 handler, Paxson was my K9 and he protected me. Paxson also received training in tracking suspects and missing persons, criminal apprehension and evidence recovery—such as firearms and tools used to commit a crime.”
Paxson then became certified as a police K9 for the Smithfield Police Department.
“As Paxson’s handler, I became attached to him. You form an incredible bond with the dog during training and learn to trust each other. I needed to be able to learn his physical cues and body language, and he did the same with me.”
A year later they also attended the narcotics portion of the training with the RISP—another 400-hour school. The narcotics he was trained to sniff or identify were marijuana, cocaine, meth, and heroine. And Paxson proved to have a powerful sense of smell. He was also trained to detect human scent, whether actual humans or the scent they left behind on an article.
“Paxson was then considered a dual-purpose K9,” says Gilmore. “And he was a great asset to the department.”
Following the initial schools and certifications, they attended an additional 200 hours of in- service training per year in order to maintain the certifications in patrol and narcotics.
During his service time, Paxson was a well-known K9 and not only protected members of the Smithfield Police Department when needed, he protected and provided service with patrol and narcotics calls to numerous departments throughout northern Rhode Island. He and his handler also assisted the RISP in North Smithfield, Central Falls, and Cranston prior to the establishment of their K9 programs.
Gilmore continues, “Among many accomplishments, K9 Paxson located narcotics in homes and vehicles, aided in locating a suicidal male hiding in the woods in Smithfield, aided in apprehending a breaking and entering suspect also in Smithfield, and aided in locating a suspected weapon used in a felony assault case in Smithfield where the victim lost his life.”
Over the years, the pair also provided instruction at several “Citizens Police Academy” classes at the Smithfield Police Department and regularly performed demonstrations for Boy Scout classes.
In August of 2014, however, the K9 Unit of the Smithfield Police Department was suspended and Paxson was forced to retire.
Gilmore says, “Fortunately for me, Paxson, and my family, after the program was suspended, Paxson became exclusively mine, and technically no longer property of the town of Smithfield. I took Paxson home to live with my family where he became a ‘normal’ dog living at home. He no longer went to work.”
Sadly, Paxson quietly passed away in October.
“Paxson protected me, he was fearless,” said Gilmore. “He would have taken a bullet for me. He would go into harm’s way without any hesitation. He would not only protect me, but any other officer if I instructed him to do so, according to the situation presented. And he was as faithful to me as I was to him.”
He added, “It was a tough few days for me following his passing. You always hope when it comes to any pet that you did right by them, but especially with Paxson. He was more than a dog, he was my partner.”