Emergency readiness and a desire to amplify community relations are goals the Medford Township Police Department hopes to reach by welcoming its newest bomb dog.
K9 unit officer Ed McKemey is the handler for Oakley, a black Labrador Retriever who was added to the team in March. The K9 female was trained to sniff out explosives and other bomb-making materials. McKemey acquired Oakley through police department funding and she was chosen by an outside vendor.
Bomb dogs are not foreign to the department, one of the few that utilized the animals before 9/11.
“There is a history of our department to have an explosives dog on hand to try and handle our incidents without having to call outside resources and take them away from someone who may need it,” McKemey said.
He is now responsible for the care for two K9s; the other is Hugo, a narcotics, missing persons search and patrol dog. McKemey is the only officer in Medford’s history to handle two dogs at one time. While they are not used in the same cases, the animals get along well in McKemey’s home.
Unlike the other patrol and narcotics dogs in the department, Oakley retains her playful demeanor, often shyly approaching strangers before demanding their attention. Her personality opened doors for the department to get to know residents better.
Lynn Angelastro’s fourth grade class at Allen Elementary School won a contest to name Oakley.
“She just wants to say hi to you and she rolls over for you to get you to pet her,” McKemey explained. “In the other dogs, people may be more apprehensive to go up and pet them. I wanted her, a small dog in stature, to not give off any vibes that would make people walk away.”
Oakley earned certification on July 27, after sniffing out explosives, bomb-making materials, gunpowder, black powder and smokeless/double-base power. Training taught the canine to sit and stare at McKemey when she has a positive indication of danger.
Lt. Arthur Waterman said a K9 will enter a building when the “all clear” is instructed to initiate a search, after those inside are evacuated to a safe location.
The Pavlov’s dog theory rang a bell for Oakley, as McKemey uses a reward system for her to learn how to notify her handler of a positive scent and to remain encouraged during the search. Like other K9s in the department, a treat is discreetly given to the dog once the job is done.
The department hopes to use Oakley — now its third K9 — in Medford schools, St. Mary of the Lakes (when requested) and the two Lenape Regional high schools — Shawnee and Lenape. Searches can be performed in other larger structures as well.
“Having that capability of an explosives detection K9 gives us the ability to rapidly respond to those incidents, and be able to diagnose them quickly and maintain the safety of the public,” Waterman noted.
Having taken care of several K9s prior to Oakley, McKemey sees an opportunity for the department to continue its growth forward.
And at home?
“She stays at home with me, and I have children, my wife and Hugo,” McKemey said. “She is loved and cared for by them; she has a cage in my room and when she’s not working.
“She is like any other dog loved by family.”