LAKEWOOD RANCH -- After making crafts, creating care packages and buying toys for military dogs and the local K-9 unit, students at Gilbert W. McNeal Elementary School got to meet the Manatee County Sheriff Office's K-9 unit Tuesday.
"We really, really appreciate it," Sgt. Steve Chenard, who oversees the K-9 unit, told the assembled group. A few of the police dogs and their handlers showed off some of their moves for the students.
Michelle Dubendorf's fifth-grade class worked with Amy Trytek, the founder and president of the Warrior Dogs Care Package Project, a company that helps assemble care packages for working dogs overseas and locally. The students came together in December to collect rub
ber dog toys called Kongs and make ornaments for the sheriff's K-9 unit.
"Kongs (chew toys) and tennis balls are a huge reward for them," Trytek said.
As the police dogs and their handlers showed off some of their tricks -- including the dogs being spun in circles by their handlers with jaws clenched on a toy -- Chenard fielded questions from the students, including what happens after the dogs retire.
"All of our dogs when they retire, the sheriff's office lets us buy them for a grand total of $10," he said.
Students also wanted to know if the dogs played together and got along when they weren't working.
"For the most part, they all get along really well, but sometimes they fight like brothers and sisters," Chenard said.
The dogs, which obey commands in Dutch or Czech, live with their human counterparts and often live in their own area, away from the deputies' families, Chenard said. As each handler came forward with his police dog, Chenard told the students how many bad guys they had worked to recently put behind bars. The oldest pair in the unit -- with the police dog just one week away from retirement -- has caught more than 100 criminals, Chenard said.
"They've caught every kind of bad guy you can imagine," Chenard said.
After the display, Dubendorf's students were given a photograph and were able to have their photograph signed. Students worked down the line, making sure they didn't miss a single signature.
"It was really exciting," Khloe Maldonado said.
"I liked when they spun the dog around, it was amazing," classmate Ryan Hanson added.
Dubendorf said the project really got her students thinking about what work the K-9 units do in the community.
"I think it's important for the kids to see that," she said.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.