FORT DODGE, Iowa — The security department at UnityPoint Health Trinity Regional Medical Center is now two furry members stronger.
Maple and Shadow are two K-9 security officers in training, a program the first of its kind in Iowa hospitals thanks to a special grant.
“It’s just another tool for us to use,” says public safety supervisor Mark Gargano.
Since January, the dogs have trained as patrol dogs. Officials say their duty is not to be confused with therapy dogs.
“As a general rule, violence has increased across health care across the country,” says Gargano. “We are a very safe hospital, but we have had to look at different options to make the hospital safer for our patients, visitors, and staff. We thought the dogs were the best options.”
The dogs are being trained to obey, and are also learning how to detect and de-escalate tense situations by barking commands.
Hospital officials say their research shows the presence of a dog at an event involving disruptive behavior tends to quiet the situation without the uses of force or restraints.
Gargano says since the program’s start, it’s already catching the eye of other medical centers.
“Within UnityPoint we have had three other hospitals ask us questions about it and wanted to see how the program worked here.”
However, it’s not all work for the K-9 officers; another one of their major roles is interacting with patients and staff.
“When I started working here, it was, ‘Oh hey Austin, hows your afternoon?’ Now it’s, ‘Hey Maple, how are you doing?'” laughs Austin Scott, a public security officer.
The dogs’ handlers are working to get them certified and trained at the national level within the next six months.