Demonstrations of suspect apprehension, narcotics scans and article searches carried out by the K-9 Unit of the Sussex Correctional Institute served as both entertainment and education for children attending the Unite Sussex day-camp in Frankford on Monday, Aug. 8.
Between 20 and 70 of the 96 registered participants in the day-camp arrive at the Dagsboro Church of God each morning, anticipating the opportunities the day will bring.
“We have educational activities to help stimulate them for the summer to prepare them for the school year, and there’s also physical activities,” said Kristen Doty, children’s director at DCG.
The day-camp, which began June 20, has offered learning opportunities ranging from bicycle safety sessions hosted by police officers to CPR training from Sussex County paramedics. During the week of Aug. 8-11, the camp will culminate in a literally cool activity – making homemade ice cream – along with a demonstration from the National Guard.
Eric Pepper, David West and Bill Hoban, K-9 handlers from the SCI in Georgetown, illustrated safety, training and exercises with their police dogs for the children attending the day-camp on Monday.
Following a 10-minute demonstration on K-9 safety and protective gear, which included bite sleeves, bite suits, bulletproof vests and more, Pepper began leading the group of intrigued children through the phases of K-9 training.
Between demonstrations of the dogs sniffing out drugs and bringing down suspects, Pepper explained that, while the dogs come home with the officers each day, they are not treated as pets but as working animals.
When dogs arrive at the SCI training program, which began in 1996, they are typically between the ages of 14 and 20 months old and have had no formal training, Pepper informed the children. Throughout a 14-16 week course, the dogs undergo rigorous training in patrol, tracking, apprehension and area searches with SCI’s two full-time trainers.
During the first few weeks of training, the K-9 handlers who will ultimately be responsible for the dogs spend time bonding with them. Pepper offered the example of reading to his dog during daily walks as a way of familiarizing the dog with his voice.
The second stage of training consists of obedience training, which is then followed by scent theory, in which the dogs are trained to use the roughly 20,000 receptors in their noses to detect narcotics, cell phones and other items of interest to police investigations.
Following training, the dogs are fully prepared for 24-7 service to the community – whether it be in tracking a suspect or educating and entertaining children at a day-camp.
The day-camp was organized by Kim Tephabock of Unite Sussex and is being made possible by volunteers from DCG and donations from the Delaware Food Bank. The idea behind the camp was to provide not only an opportunity to keep the children busy with activities during a summer in which no summer-school programs are being offered locally but to ensure those reliant upon school-based food programs have an ongoing source of nutrition during the summer.