UT Police Department Sergeant Cedric Roach had been a combat engineer in the Marine Reserves with a background in handling explosives. So he jumped at the chance to be one of UTPD’s K-9 officers when the department launched the program in 2013.
He and Bira, a 6-year-old Belgian Malinois, have been a team since then. Bira was born in Poland and brought to the United States by Iron Heart High Performance Working Dogs in Shawnee, Kansas. She is certified in explosive ordnance detection.
Roach, who has been with the department 11 years, serves in UTPD’s special events unit, which coordinates police presence at more than 500 athletic events, speaking engagements, concerts, and special activities on campus every year.
Roach sees Bira as a work tool. “But she’s a living, breathing work tool that you grow close to, your family becomes fond of, and she becomes a part of your family.”
When working an event, Roach and Bira arrive at the venue several hours ahead of its start time to search it with the other K-9 teams.
“When we do our searches, it’s always a game to the dogs because they’re always looking for a reward,” Roach said. “We never want to find anything. But when we don’t find anything, it can mess up our dogs because they’re used to finding something when we train. You always want to end on a positive note so the dog remembers that positive experience.”
When there are no events, Bira can be found snoozing in her kennel at the office or waiting for visitors. “She’s extremely social. She loves people and will take a belly rub for days,” Roach said.
Turns out the name Bira can be hard for some people to say. “She’s been called Vera and Bria,” Roach said.
But Bira doesn’t mind as long as she gets her favorite snacks from Roach.
“She loves peanut butter. She also loves cheese and that’s what I feed her pills in,” he said. “And occasionally she loves a rawhide bone. For Christmas one year, I got her a giant smoked cow femur with bits of meat on it. She gnawed on that thing until it wore her out.”
Lola Alapo (865-974-1094, firstname.lastname@example.org)