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RPD canine pays special visit to Belgreen

By Staff
Kim West
BELGREEN – Belgreen High School received a special visit Friday morning from Player, the only K-9 dog currently assigned to the Russellville Police Department.
Approximately 32 second-graders taught by Teresa McKee and Donna Murray listened to a 30-minute presentation about Player by his handler, RPD Lt. Jeff Michael.
"When Player works, it's all a big game to him," Michael said. "He doesn't know what drugs are or what a human smell is supposed to be like. He just knows he'll get a reward if he does his job.
"He's nosy but that's his job. He is 99 percent accurate, and he's even found marijuana seeds in a car before."
Player, a playful black Labrador, was purchased and trained by the RPD eight years ago as an 8-month-old puppy for $5,600 and is used by the department for search missions.
"He stays with me 24 hours a day, seven days a week and stays with me everywhere I go – I've even taken him on vacation," Michael said. "He relies on me and I rely on him, and he's like my best friend."
Police work can be physically grueling, and Player is no exception after undergoing several procedures to correct stomach ailments.
"He's had three major surgeries due to (gastric) torsion," Michael said. "He's really hyper and that makes him more prone to stomach problems. They teach us what to look for in dogs like that, and if I didn't know to look for those problems, then he wouldn't be here with me today.
"It's a big responsibility to be a canine handler and it's been a bumpy ride with Player but I've enjoyed every moment of it."
McKee said her students have recently studied rescue dogs and meeting Player reinforces their classroom work.
"We've been studying rescue dogs for hurricanes and earthquakes, and this is the closest we can get to showing the students," McKee said. "This helps them understand what they're learning better, and they have been so excited about the chance to visit with Player."
Michael said showing his K-9 to students gives him the opportunity to teach an anti-drug message to a captive audience.
"The biggest thing with kids is you have to get their attention," Michael said. "I try to instill in them that drugs are not safe and if I can get one kid not to use drugs by talking to them with Player, then it's all worth it."