UNA PD’s Officer Kirby and Toby Ready For Another Year
Aug. 25, 2014
Bryan Rachal, Public Affairs and Media Relations
FLORENCE, Ala. – This past week Toby starts his 21st year on campus, if we were measuring in dog years, that is. But if we’re counting in human years, Toby and his partner, K9 Officer Grey Kirby, began their third year together at the University of North Alabama. While the duo is well known around campus, Officer Kirby understands he’s rarely the main attraction.
“Everywhere I go the first thing I get asked is ‘Where’s Toby,’ if he’s not with me. If he’s with me they all holler Toby’s name and they come pet him because he is a petting dog. His other purpose is to make the students feel at ease; they’re more concerned about him than me so to speak and that’s fine; it’s all about Toby!”
Officer Kirby has been with the University of North Alabama Police Department for the past six and a half years since he arrived in March of 2008. But he hasn’t always had Toby as a partner. Five-year-old Toby arrived from Auburn University three years ago as part of a Department of Justice grant. The university received Toby free of charge, which is great considering police dogs can cost anywhere between $10,000-$20,000.
Kirby said Toby’s past isn’t so rosy though; he actually spent some time in lock-up! “Toby spent a year in prison being cared for by prisoners, then at one year he started his detection training.” Auburn also provided Kirby with a 10-week, K9 handling course so he could learn how to work with Toby.
Kirby said that when he first started training with Toby, they were already seven weeks in. Kirby’s original dog didn’t make it through the program, so he was given Toby. He said it took about two weeks for Toby to get used to him. “After about two weeks he became a son. I can’t go anywhere without him following me around. He goes home with me; we’re together 24/7; he’s always around. The bond is good we trust each other.”
Toby is what’s known in law enforcement as a “single purpose dog,” meaning his one and only job is to find explosives. He was brought to the area because the Shoals did not have an explosives dog close by; the nearest K9 explosives dog is an hour away. Officer Kirby said UNA PD Chief Robert Pastula wanted to have options in case an incident took place where a dog like Toby was needed.
Much like a human officer when Toby puts on his uniform, his collar and leash, he knows it’s time to work. But that doesn’t mean he takes days off either. Kirby said Toby’s nose is always working and if there was something, he would let Kirby know. Toby does this by sitting in front of the fake device during training, and according to Kirby, Toby’s eyes light up. “He’ll sit down and look at me like he just saved the world.” His reward for finding a device: a ball on a string. Talk about a cheap date. But Kirby said it’s really just a game for the dogs.
Thankfully, all the devices Toby has found so far have been fakes used to train him and that’s fine with Kirby. “If I’m not finding anything, then lives are being saved; finding a bomb on a call in our community would tell me that the world has gone down even worse.”
Kirby and Toby do not only provide service for our area. This past March they were both called to Savannah, Tennessee, so Toby’s expertise could be used. They also support the University of Alabama on football game days by helping “sweep” the stadium. They also do a lot of “Meet and Greets” in the community, as Toby is a great ambassador for UNA and the UNA PD. But it also takes a community to help support Toby. “Maintaining a K9 program is never cheap and Pet Depot® is a big supporter. Shoals Animal Hospital provides him medical care and Pampered Pets keeps him smelling nice and looking great!”
While Toby’s skills are useful all over, Kirby said Toby loves being on campus the most. “In the summertime when we’re here it’s pretty boring and slow, and he sees that and he gets a little antsy when he doesn’t get the attention he gets during the school year. So, yes, he misses the students. Luckily, the staff members on campus are big fans of Toby so he gets some good attention there.”
Kirby said he’s worked with many partners over the years, but none compare to Toby. “This is the best partner I’ve ever had. Of all my choices in my career, becoming a K9 handler was the best choice I ever made.”