RIO GRANDE —For nearly a decade, Buckeye Rural Electric Cooperative has been partnering with the Ohio State Highway Patrol’s canine training team to provide OSHP with a different environment to train in – the co-op’s warehouse, which stores all manner of equipment, parts, and pieces needed to run an electric distribution system.
“The warehouse has lots of places to hide things, so that makes it a good training place for both officers and dogs,” says Matt Hall, a senior lineman at BREC who has served in OSHP’s volunteer auxiliary team.
Canine Training Sergeant Stoney Johnson adds other benefits to the list: activity, four walls, and a ceiling.
“The warehouse presents obstacles and commotion, and that’s good to expose the dogs to, but it’s especially good for inclement weather,” Johnson says. “We can keep training when the weather is bad.”
Continual training is required for the “teams” of state patrolmen and their canine helpers – a minimum of 16 hours per month, under OSHP requirements, he says. Buckeye Rural Electric got involved thanks to Hall’s former volunteer work, which made a lasting impression on him.
“I wanted to be a trooper, but I wasn’t able to because I’m color blind,” Hall says. “A friend suggested I join the State Patrol reserves, and I rode along with officers who stopped people for drugs. I’ve seen a lot of good people get messed up on drugs that shouldn’t be.”
That includes a 17-year-old girl who said she’d been doing drugs since she was 12. All it took was one try, and she was hooked.
“I’ve got two daughters of my own who were around that age at that time, and it really hit home for me,” Hall says. “I’m thinking, that could be my daughter standing here. I hate to see kids get messed up like that. The more drugs the troopers can take off the street, the better off we are.”
So when Johnson, whom Hall was friends with from his reserves days, approached him about using Buckeye Rural Electric’s facilities for training, Hall immediately took the request to the co-op’s leadership team.
“There was no question about it – we were more than happy to offer our warehouse as a training ground,” says Tonda Meadows, Buckeye Rural Electric’s general manager and CEO. “We’re not just an electricity provider here. We’re local, and we live here, too, so we’re ready for anything we can do to help law enforcement work to keep drugs out of our community.”
OSHP started an in-house canine training program in 2015 and now counts Johnson and five others among its statewide trainers. The dogs can help find suspects and evidence, but 90 percent of their time is locating narcotics along highways, Johnson says.
“We train in parks to teach tracking, government buildings that aren’t being used, and several other business facilities that are offered to us,” he says. “All of them are equally important to us. Without the help of these facilities, that would limit our abilities to get our dogs and handlers the training we need to be out there on the street working drug interdiction.”
Johnson had three canine “partners” over a decade, before he and five colleagues were sent to Kansas to become a certified trainer. He helped launch OSHP’s training program in 2015, and since then, OSHP has trained 43 dogs in house. The patrol has 36 canines of its own around the state and also trains dogs for other agencies, like county sheriffs.
“I’ve been there with the troopers, I’ve seen it firsthand – they get into a lot of different situations,” Hall says. “It’s really great that Buckeye can provide a different atmosphere to train in. It’s good for the community.”