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Steady duo makes rounds for K-9 Security Program

Published on Monday, November 05, 2018

Each of them has been described as relaxed, laid-back, and friendly. Together, they are the hard-working duo that forms the K-9 Security Program at McLaren Greater Lansing.

Joshua Lockwood, a 35-year old father of one from Lansing, forms the human half of the K-9 unit that has been making rounds at the hospital since June. Scout, a 2½-year old black German shepherd from Germany, is his canine partner.

“His personality is very playful,” Lockwood said of Scout. “But he knows when it’s time to go to work. When you get him into that work mode of watching someone, he is extremely focused. He doesn’t look to his left or his right. He’s very intent on observing the person he’s supposed to be observing. He’s thinking about what that person is doing.”

As a long-time reserve officer with the Corunna Police Department, Lockwood’s law enforcement background helped push him toward the top of the applicant list for the K-9 handler position. But Cary Wooster, manager of security at the hospital, said his “even-keeled personality” was one of the things that made him the top choice.

“We didn’t want a handler who was too gung-ho because that can translate to the way the dog behaves,” Wooster said. “This is a position where the person handling the dog needs to be able to stay calm and Josh has the kind of personality we were looking for.”

Lockwood, who describes himself as a “people person,” was an admissions officer at his alma mater of Great Lakes Christian College before coming on board at McLaren Greater Lansing because he saw the K-9 handler position as a “neat” career opportunity. He grew up with dogs as pets, but does not consider himself a “dog lover.” However, his wife Sasha has an affinity for German shepherds and he has come to appreciate them as dogs who are “loyal, smart, and fun to be around.”

Lockwood and Scout work three, 10-hour shifts a week at the hospital and spend another day training at a K-9 academy in Taylor. The weekly training is designed to hone Scout’s skills in the areas of aggression, explosives and firearms detection, in-field searches, obedience, and pet therapy. The pair always make rounds of the Emergency Department (ED) during their shifts at McLaren Greater Lansing, but also visit other parts of the hospital, and conduct patrols on the grounds outside the building.

The ED is a focal point for them because a lot of activity takes place there. The unit can treat up to 48 patients and there are times when it is filled to capacity.

Emotions can run high in the ED due to the emergency situations in which patients find themselves. But the presence of a dog can help lower those tensions, particularly if the dog interacts with someone in a friendly way. When that occurs, studies have shown that the release of a hormone regarded as an indicator of love or attachment increases in both humans and dogs.

McLaren Flint started a K-9 program in March and since then the number of aggressive incidents there has dropped substantially, according to Jeff Young, director of security and communications. He said having a K-9 unit nearby tends to make people “chill out” when they see a dog.

If Lockwood does enter a tense situation with Scout, his goal is to speak calmly with the people involved and treat them with respect so they will settle down. He adds Scout will become aggressive only if commanded to do so, and Lockwood views giving such an order as a “last resort.”

Lockwood’s desire to defuse a potentially tense situation could be seen when he was called to the ED because a patient had been trying to leave his room – so he could leave the hospital – before medical staff had determined it was okay to do so. When Lockwood arrived at the entrance to the room, he instructed Scout to lay down, with his belly touching the floor, and then asked the patient stay in bed. The patient wanted to pet Scout and Lockwood told him he would let him do so later, provided he remained in his bed for the time being. When the patient did as instructed, Lockwood gave Scout a command to get to his feet and they went on their way. 

John Patterson, the administrative director of ancillary services at McLaren Greater Lansing, said the decision to start a K-9 program was made in an effort to increase security at the hospital while maintaining a friendly and welcoming atmosphere.

“A K-9 unit was the best way to create a safer environment that fits with our compassionate and caring culture,” he said.

Many hospitals in Michigan have K-9 programs, including St. Joseph Mercy in Ann Arbor, Beaumont Health, Henry Ford Allegiance, and Spectrum Health. McLaren’s campuses in Mt. Clemens and Port Huron also have programs, and Patterson hopes to one day add more dogs and handlers to the rotation at McLaren Greater Lansing. For now, he appreciates the job Lockwood and Scout are doing and is aware of the strong bond that exists between a K-9 handler and a dog.

For Lockwood and Scout not only work together 40 hours a week, they live together, along with Lockwood’s wife, their one-year old son Amos, and their 3½-year old female German shepherd Raja. When Lockwood accepted the position of K-9 handler at McLaren Greater Lansing, he committed to working with Scout for at least five years. In addition, Scout will continue to live with Lockwood after he has “retired” as a K-9 officer.

“It’s been very rewarding, but sometimes you take your lumps,” Lockwood said of his relationship with Scout. “There were a lot of peaks and valleys with him during the initial training. The first eight weeks were pretty tough when we were getting started, but the bonding that has taken place since then is really special. Once that happens, you read your dog better, and your dog gets better at reading you.”

Although Scout’s primary responsibility at McLaren Greater Lansing is security, he also enjoys dispensing some good old fashion pet therapy.

That is obvious whenever he and Lockwood greet people in the hospital, or stop by the hospital’s nursing stations. Scout quickly becomes the center of attention when that happens and Lockwood will stand back and let his partner bask in the affection being directed his way.

A nurse at one station called Scout “adorable” and said she and her colleagues benefit from pet therapy just like patients do. In another part of the hospital, a physician leaned over to pet Scout, and after finishing, informed him that he had “just made my day.”

Lastly, there was a wide-eyed little boy in the patient entrance area who could not have been more than 3 or 4 years of age. Although he did not pet Scout, he never took his eyes off of him and appeared to ask his mother about him. He then thanked Scout for “keeping us safe” as he and his mom walked out the door.

The K-9 Security Program is supported by a grant from the McLaren Greater Lansing Foundation.

If you would like to learn more about the Foundation, or support the K-9 Security Program or another program, department, or unit at the hospital, please call 517.975.7100, email mglfoundation@mclaren.org, or visit mclaren.org/lansingfoundation.