K-9 unit starts work on campus, in community

UNA police welcomed a new member to its ranks March 16. Officer Toby is a three-year-old black lab with a highly-trained snout.

Toby was raised by prisoners in the state of Alabama until the age of six months when he was sent to Anniston for the first part of his extensive instruction. When finished there, he was sent to Auburn University to complete his training. On March 16, Toby graduated and was placed at UNA. The dog is trained in detecting 10 specific odors commonly found in explosives.

“Toby is always working,” said Officer Greg Kirby, the dog’s handler. “From the time we get out of the car, walking on campus, or heading into our office, his nose is always working.”

Kirby said the K-9 unit at UNA was an idea started by Chief Bob Pastula.

“When Chief Pastula was hired on, this was one of his goals,” Kirby said. “I volunteered to be partners with Toby and lucked out.”

Kirby joined Toby in Auburn for the last portion of his training in order to learn how to handle a trained dog.

“I was in the Air Force as security and we had dogs on our force,” Kirby said. “I had been around them and seen them work, but I learned a lot about the handler’s role in working the dog through our training.”

Toby will be present at UNA athletics as well as most campus events where a crowd would gather. The canine officer saw his first action April 4 when he patrolled the crowd that had gathered around the amphitheater to hear a preacher.

“He’s a good dog and he’s good around people,” Kirby said. “That afternoon showed me a lot about him and how he’s going to do at UNA.”

Kirby and Toby will also make their rounds to local elementary and high schools for demonstrations.

Kirby said this new K-9 unit is paid for by the current budget for UNA Public Safety.

UNA junior Meagan Jinks likes the idea of having a police dog on campus.

“It makes me a feel a little safer knowing we have a program like that on campus,” she said. “After the criminal activity around campus this semester, anything promoting safety is a good thing.”

Kirby said he wants students to feel comfortable approaching him and Toby.

“Don’t be afraid to say hi to the dog, just be cautious and respectful like you would with any other dog,” said Officer Kirby. “The department is excited about this. We want to have a good presence on campus.”