MONROE, CT — Close to 50 Monroe Summer Day Camp children eagerly anticipated an appearance of the police dog, Murphy, as they gathered on the Monroe Green with their counselors Thursday morning. But before K-9 Officer John McAulay could let the German shepherd out of his SUV, he had to go over some safety rules.
Though many of the children enjoy cuddling with their dogs at home, rule number one was not to touch Murphy.
“My dog is not a pet,” McAulay explained. “My dog doesn’t like being pet. He’s a police officer. I can pet him, because he’s used to me. My wife, my two kids and my mother can pet him.”
Even McAulay’s co-workers cannot pet his partner, with the exception of Jay Torreso, which baffles McAulay.
The children were also told not to run away when Murphy is let out of the vehicle, because the dog is trained to chase bad guys and uses a powerful bite to catch them. Any quick movement could spur Murphy into action.
Camp Director Karen Mucherino told the children to raise their hands if they felt scared.
“Don’t touch or approach me,” McAulay cautioned.
Murphy is trained to protect his partner, so the dog doesn’t like it when it sees someone touch McAulay.
McAulay and Murphy’s visit was the second one for Hero Week. On Monday, police officers Brooke Larsen, who is the school resource officer for Masuk High School, and Chris Silkman talked to the kids. Today (Friday), firefighters are visiting the camp.
Kristen Cavanaugh, who runs the camp with her mother as co-director, explained what they hope the children get out of Hero Week. “We want to teach them that they can be superheroes by helping people around them,” she said.
When Officer McAulay opened the back door of his SUV, his German shepherd enthusiastically made its appearance. McAulay walked Murphy toward the crowd on a leash and the dog jumped up to greet him.
McAulay and Officer Jeffrey Loomis were the town’s two K-9 officers, but Loomis was recently promoted to the rank of sergeant. Officer Michael DeCarli is training to take his place and will be paired with Loomis’s dog, Riggs.
McAulay told the children that Murphy, now 8, was born and raised in Hungary. Murphy was trained in Europe for sports dog competitions, but he had a broken tail, making the dog available for law enforcement instead. Murphy was trained in German.
It cost the Monroe Police Department around $12,000 to buy the German shepherd, but McAulay said it was all paid for with grants and donations. The total price tag includes equipment and training.
McAulay, an Army veteran who served in Iraq, named his dog after Army legend Audie Leon Murphy.
“His food is at home. He doesn’t eat at work, because he could get bloat,” McAulay told the children.
If a police dog with bloat responds to a call, the activity and pressure on its stomach could kill the animal, McAulay explained.
He said Murphy eats seven cups per day of an expensive dog food.
As a police dog, Murphy’s responsibilities include chasing bad guys, protecting his partner and using his nose to track down missing persons and fleeing suspects. Murphy used to sniff out marijuana, but now the drug has been legalized.
McAulay said he also lets his dog out when someone who is being arrested refuses to listen to officers and tries to fight them. The sight of the growling dog usually leads to quick compliance, he said.
Among Murphy’s training is obedience. McAulay led some demonstrations to show off the German shepherd’s skills.
In the first one, McAulay called his dog over and Murphy walked closely beside him, looking up at the officer the whole time. “He’s trained to pay attention to me for a command or his toy,” McAulay said.
Murphy started barking. “Is he talking to you?” a girl asked.
“Yes,” McAulay replied. “Do you know what he’s saying? ‘Give me my toy.'”
In another exercise, McAulay told his dog to go back into the SUV, so he could hide his cellphone in the grass and have Murphy use his sensitive nose to find it.
While a Bloodhound will sniff a person’s garment to get their distinctive scent before a search, McAulay said Murphy is trained to detect a human scent in general, so it’s important to find where the right person’s footprints begin, so the dog can follow it to the end.
Murphy crouched down low and sniffed the grass, walking in a circle before finding the phone and barking.
The officer recalled a car crash in Redding years ago, in which the young driver was thrown from the vehicle. He lost his grandfather’s necklace and police could not find it.
McAulay and Murphy were called in to help two weeks later. Though items lose their human scent over time, Murphy still found the piece of jewelry.
In another incident in Trumbull, Murphy quickly found a missing person after officers came up empty after a 20 hour search and called Monroe’s K-9 unit for help.
McAulay said neighboring towns share their K-9 officers with each other when theirs are off duty.
Tug of war
Will Salamon was the brave camp counselor chosen to play tug of war with Murphy. When the German shepherd saw Salamon holding its toy, the dog appeared ready to pounce, but waited for McAulay’s order.
When it got the okay, Murphy lunged for the toy, clamping its teeth on it in a vice grip, while McAulay held tightly onto his dog’s leash.
Salamon bent his knees and leaned back for leverage. He pulled the toy toward his body, but Murphy hung on the whole time.
“Aus,” McAulay called out the German order to release, and Murphy let go.
After visiting the camp, McAulay said seeing a police dog was fun for the kids, who ranged from age 3 to 12.
“Anytime I can help the general public to have some understanding of what we do and go through on a daily basis, it’s a good thing,” he said of community policing.
McAulay said a lot goes into being a K-9 officer, including knowing your dog and how to use the animal correctly for a high rate of success.
“I would take a good handler with an average dog over a phenomenal dog with an average handler,” he said.