Heather Massey figured Thursday's late-morning gathering of Lodi High School seniors at the school's gym was just another pre-graduation information session. When she spotted a San Joaquin Sheriffs deputy, she knew something was up.
"I thought they were more here for security," she said.
But Lodi High Principal Bob Lofsted had something else up his sleeve: a surprise visit from the San Joaquin Sheriff's canine unit.
"We just wanted to liven things up," Lofsted said. "They've earned it."
Since the freshmen, sophomore and junior classes were all taking state-mandated standardized tests, the 20-minute presentation was only for seniors, who were charmed by the dogs as they struggled to gain traction on the slick gym floor. The students were also educated by deputies about why they shouldn't approach a law enforcement vehicle with a canine unit, and how the dogs are used to apprehend suspects.
Deputy Michael Boyd began the presentation by trotting out Shadow, a 2-year-old Belgian Malinois, a black and gray shepherd with erect ears and a build similar to a German Shepherd. When Boyd brought out the bite sleeve, a plastic and fabric device that fits over the user's arm and is used to train the animal, Shadow drew laughs and smiles from the crowd as his attention became fixated on the sleeve.
"This is his toy," Boyd said. "Next to me, this is his favorite thing in the world."
Before showing off the animal's abilities, Boyd said the dogs are trained to intimidate a suspect first by barking or growling prior to attempting to knock them down. As Boyd spoke, students snapped pictures as they eagerly awaited the display of raw strength from the 70-pound canine. Despite sliding to his stomach several times because he couldn't get a grip on the basketball court's surface, Shadow quickly latched onto Boyd's left arm. After telling the students that perpetrators can be less than kind to law enforcement dogs, Boyd slapped and lightly kicked Shadow. The blows didn't seem to faze the dog, which ripped the bite sleeve off the deputy's arm.
Although the dogs have good dispositions, it's not a good idea to try and pet one or approach a vehicle holding one, Boyd said.
"(Shadow) spends a lot of time in the patrol car; it's like his home," Boyd said. "He protects it and would see you as an intruder."
The next dog brought out before the seniors was Arras, a lean, brindle 2-year-old Dutch Shepherd. With his long tongue rolling out of his mouth, Arras drooled across the gym floor as he also struggled to gain footing. Deputy Rob Semillo told students that Arras always sits on his left side because his gun rests on his right thigh. If an officer is left-handed, the dog will sit on their right.
When a student in the audience offered to wear the bite sleeve Semillo resisted, but dryly said that if the teen committed a crime, sheriffs would bring the dog to him.
After the presentation, senior Shane Bilbrey said it was his first time seeing a law enforcement canine in action, and enjoyed the surprise.
"I was impressed by the power," Bilbrey said. "(Arras) was sliding on the floor and still held onto the (bite) sleeve."
As Massey sat outside the gym after the presentation to wait for her friends, she thought about the training the canines go through to be so effective.
"The most impressive thing is how well the sheriffs control them," she said. "When you see the dogs on television, they don't seem to be as obedient."
Contact reporter Jordan Guinn at firstname.lastname@example.org.