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What a difference a dog makes

Healthcare Security and Emergency Management, May 1, 2004

In a Banner Health delivery room, it took more than humans to convince a belligerent, intoxicated man claiming to be an infant's father to leave the Phoenix hospital.

"The security officer went in and within 30 seconds, the man was ready to fight," says Don Bogardus, system director of environmental health, safety, and security.

"He was intent on taking the baby," says Bogardus, but the sight of the canine security caused him to take off "on a dead run out of there."

This is just one of the many examples Bogardus has of how security canines make a difference in his facility. But even with glowing reviews, security officials say the animals aren't a popular alternative in hospital systems.

"There's a stigma about animals walking through hospitals," he says, which is stemmed in concerns about hygiene. "But as pet therapy flourishes, we start to see that stigmatism fading," so people are more accepting of security canines.

If you haven't given canine security a thought, consider these security directors' reasons.

Why canine security?

The reasons behind purchasing a dog vary from looking for an alternative to armed security to reducing crime rates to improving employee safety.

Almost 10 years ago, Bogardus traded guns for dogs.

"I'd been in healthcare security for a long time, and there were a series of incidents where some security [officers] had guns and didn't make good decisions," he says. "I felt there was a higher risk than need be."

Just about the same time in San Diego, Scripps Mercy Hospital's corporate security specialist Bill Rinebold turned to dogs because of the facility's location and employees' safety concerns. As a leading trauma center south of Los Angeles and just 16 miles from the Mexican border, gang-related activity is prevalent at the hospital.

A few months after Rinebold acquired his first dog, an incident involving two competitive gangs could have turned deadly in his hospital's lobby. However, the dog proved its special security presence.

"We made a decision to get control of our lobby area," where the two opposing gangs started hollering at each other, Rinebold says. "Within 30 seconds [of the dog appearing], you could hear a pin drop." Dogs may appear more frightening than armed security. "They can bark, growl, or just strain at the leash," he says.

When it comes to gangs, dogs have a lot of power because gang members consider getting stabbed or shot an honor, but a dog bite is a disgrace, Bogardus points out.

When parking lot thefts began to plague Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore and increased security patrols didn't help, Jim Roberts, CHPA, director of safety, security, and special police, looked at the alternatives. The hospital's decision to purchase dogs made all the difference.

"Thefts dropped by 95% because there was nowhere [for criminals] to hide," Roberts says. "The dog handler would walk through the garage and the dog could find anyone hiding in there and identify people not authorized [to be there]."

The real dog difference

The canine programs have had varying impacts on hospitals, security directors say.

For some security directors, employees welcome the dogs with open arms and indulge the animals in one too many treats, Bogardus says.

"The main thing that would make a facility decide to have canines is the comfort level of employees," Rinebold says. "When you can get the trauma staff feeling relatively safe, that's a tremendous advancement. The psychological value of having canines on the property is a premier of security."

Since acquiring the dogs, Rinebold says none of the hospital's 11 parking lots has had a mugging, robbing, rape, or assault, despite being located in one of the higher crime areas in San Diego.

But canine security isn't solely for hospitals located in high crime areas.

"There isn't really any difference in our [crime] statistics, but the perception of [security] is much higher," Bogardus says.

"The perception of the employees and visitors of security has substantially changed. Perception is everything for security."


Buying a security dog? Consider these eight factors

Consider the following items before bringing canine security to your facility:

1. Your facility's culture. "If you [don't have] a security-minded culture or senior leadership is not supportive, then you will probably run into problems," says Steve Dettman, CHPA, director of security and visitor support services at Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix.

Bringing dogs into a hospital makes some people apprehensive. Concerns range from fear of bites to simple animal cleanliness, says Don Bogardus, system director of environmental health, safety, and security for Banner Health in Phoenix. "You have to make sure [administrators can get] past that."

2. Cost of care. Using canines is expensive, says Jim Roberts, CHPA, director of safety, security, and special police for Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. In fact, the cost is similar to adding security officers, since dogs receive similar benefits.

After purchasing a dog, which can range from $5,000 to $10,000, there are monthly stipends to cover food and basic care, and yearly veterinarian bills, as well as regular training for the dog. Even after 10 years of using canine security, Bill Rinebold, corporate security specialist for Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego, admits he still has trouble justifying the dogs in the training budget because of such a low incident level at the hospital. Over the years, Rinebold says he hasn't had any muggings, robberies, rapes, or assaults in the hospital's 11 parking lots.

Many hospitals will also need to invest in a kennel area and vehicle to transport the dogs. The hospital is also liable for the dogs when they aren't working.

4. Training. Canine security dogs undergo initial training with their handlers prior to arriving at the hospital. But it doesn't end there. Every other week, Roberts says his dogs go for repeat training. In addition, many hospitals bear the cost of hiring a certified trainer to work with the animals.

5. Liability. Liability is often the biggest issue for hospitals debating whether to use dogs. Although hospital canines aren't trained to be as aggressive as police dogs, hospitals may still feel uneasy about potential bites and lawsuits.

"We've had 14 bites over the years and all 14 were investigated and found [to be done] in protection of staff, an officer, or the facility," says Rinebold. None resulted in lawsuits against the hospital.

In 10 years, Roberts says only one hospital employee suffered a dog bite, which came as self defense. However, Roberts says he still believes dogs are less of a liability than guns.

"If an armed security officer fires a bullet, you can't [take] it back," Roberts says. "If you let the dog go and change your mind, you can call the dog back."

6. Looking for a dog. Hospitals can't select just any dog for security. Dettman recommends contacting your local or state law enforcement agency to find out about purchasing such an animal. Typically, hospitals use German shepards for canine security, but that isn't always the case. Most hospitals acquire dogs trained in Europe, where canine security has a long history.

7. Matching handler to a dog. Since canine handlers spend 24 hours a day with the dogs, the selection process must be thorough.

"Handlers must have total support," Roberts says. "The spouse must agree and be interviewed," to ensure he or she is comfortable with the dog. The resident's home is also inspected by the hospital to make sure there's ample space.

Even though the dogs live with the handler and in many ways become pets, the hospital is still liable for any incidents that occur even when the dog is not on the clock.

8. Creating more policies. When a hospital acquires canine security, it automatically needs additional policies to cover procurement, handler selection, canine care, canine abuse, canine injury, retirement, and how to go through all those processes, Roberts says.