“It’s Pako!” North Landing Elementary School students shouted with excitement as they caught a glimpse of the four-year-old German Shepard.
Up to this point, they had only seen pictures of the K-9, a police dog with the Springfield Township Police Department in Ohio.
The students were about to meet Pako and his partner, police officer Jim Scheeler, for the first time.
Not only that, students and staff would also see the protective vest that they purchased for Pako through numerous fundraisers the school held last year, shortly after Pako was shot in the line of duty while helping police officers apprehend an armed suspect.
“It felt really good to help out,” said fifth-grader Brooke Owens, who participated in the school’s numerous fundraisers such as a jelly bean jar where students could donate 25 cents to guess the amount inside. “We were doing it to help Pako earn his vest.”
The school first learned of Pako after Principal Jill Barger reached out to Spikes K9 fund, a non-profit organization founded by retired veteran James Hatch, who was critically wounded during his final deployment in Iraq. That night in 2006, Spike, one of several trained dogs that he worked with during his deployments, saved Hatch’s life. Spike, however, perished.
“I named this organization after [Spike] and I just want to take care of working dogs,” Hatch shared. “Pako is a working dog and the kids here saw it fit to raise quite a bit of money to help protect him. I think it’s awesome that the kids learn at an early age that they can affect their community in a positive way at a very young age. The kids here at North Landing figured it out and went to work quickly to raise money. It’s pretty amazing.”
The school raised $3,000, slightly more than the approximate $2,500 needed to purchase the vest. The remainder was also donated to the organization, which not only purchases ballistic vests for working dogs, but also helps defray costs of medical care when K-9 dogs are injured.
Pako’s vest, which is custom made specifically for him, also bears the school’s name.
“It’s very reassuring when he’s in the vest. He’s a lot more protected than he was,” Scheeler said.
At the first of two assemblies held at that day, Scheeler made sure that students knew how appreciative he and his partner Pako are for the school’s generosity.
“He’s had the vest for a little over a year-and-a-half now because of you, so give yourselves a round of applause,” Scheeler said in the midst of a question-and-answer session, which was followed by a demonstration of Pako’s obedience and search skills, one of which sent him on a search for a credit-card in the middle of the school’s field, which he successfully completed.
Barger says that the school didn’t expect to receive anything beyond a thank you – let alone a multi-state trip specifically to visit, but she was very grateful and so were the students who heard about Pako’s visit earlier in the week and had been looking forward to it.
“It’s one of those things, especially with the kids, I think that they should be able to see the product of what they did,” according to Scheeler. “They put a lot of time and effort and I think they should see the fruits of their labor. It means a lot to me and to Pako. I think it was the right thing to do. If he could speak, I think he would say thank you for protecting me.”