Midge — a tiny terrier - Chihuahua mix — has been sniffing for narcotics as a K-9 deputy for five years. She also has served as an unofficial mascot for the Sheriff's Office.
However, her reign as the most adorable, fun-sized animal on staff has been challenged.
The Sheriff's Office unveiled its newest junior deputy, a miniature horse named Rick O'Shay, at a pair of community fairs during the summer. He was immediately popular with kids, Sheriff Daniel McClelland said.
"He's an automatic draw," the sheriff said. "People like to come up and see the little horse. We think that's important. All too often, law enforcement, particularly to children, is perceived as this big, tough presence. (They see) law enforcement officers as large individuals who carry firearms and night sticks. They can be quite intimidating to a little child."
Though Rick O'Shay is technically part of the mounted unit, he's too tiny (34 inches tall, about 300 pounds) to ride. Instead, he serves a more informal role. He helps ingratiate the Sheriff's Office toward children and their families.
McClelland said that O'Shay "can demonstrate a different side of law enforcement, a softer side, maybe a fun side."
Jim Fields, the assistant commander of the Sheriff's Office's mounted unit, owns and cares for Rick O'Shay. It was his idea to add a miniature horse to the unit.
Rick O'Shay was rescued from a slaughterhouse.
While still a foal, he became sick. However, the people at the slaughterhouse said they could not use a sick horse for its meat.
Consequently, Nancy Zagin of Ravenna stepped in to save Rick O'Shay.
"She said he was skin and bones, picked him up and put him in her garage," Fields said. "She didn't know what was wrong with him. She said it took him three weeks for him to even lift his head. Gradually, with her care, she was able to bring him back. She had him for about three years."
|Midge and Rick O'Shay|
Rick O'Shay is healthy now. He's an even-tempered equine who went through the same certification tests other horses in the mounted unit receive. The certification involves nuisance training, including seeing how he reacts to loud noises like gunfire.
"Our feeling here is if Rick O'Shay was going to be spending time with children he needed to demonstrate that he wasn't easily spooked, that he was docile, well-behaved, worked well with people," McClelland said.
McClelland added that he hoped Rick O'Shay, like Midge, would provide one more way for people to get to know the Sheriff's Office.
"We wanted something that represented the true spirit of community policing, and we think Rick O'Shay can help do that. Rick O'Shay can make it OK for young children to come and talk to law enforcement," he said.
(Morning Journal - October 27, 2010)