- Associated Press - Saturday, August 13, 2016

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Meet Semper, the Olympia Police Department’s newest dog.

At just 5 months old, he’s much smaller than his counterpart, Melnic. His ears and paws are oversized, because he hasn’t quite grown into them yet.

But he and handler Madison Sola Del Vigo have been on a strict training regimen since he joined her family at 9 weeks old. In about a year, Semper is expected to qualify as a therapy dog and be able to work with crime victims, reported The Olympian (https://bit.ly/2bcKjF6).

“We’re getting him used to every situation with me as his handler,” Sola Del Vigo said. “We’re doing a lot of training where he has to sit still, be patient and quiet. That can be pretty hard as a puppy.”

And Semper really is part of an Olympia Police Department family. Sola Del Vigo has worked in the department’s records center for about four years. Her husband, Officer Javier Sola Del Vigo, is one of the department’s downtown night walking patrol officers.

One of Madison Sola Del Vigo’s co-workers came up with the name Semper, in reference to the Latin phrase semper fidelis that means “always faithful” and is the U.S. Marine Corps motto. She said it’s perfect, given the dog’s loyalty and that her husband is a former Marine.

Unlike Melnic, Semper isn’t the kind of dog who will be chasing down suspects. When he’s about 18 months old, he’ll go through the Therapy Dogs International exam, so that he’ll be qualified to work with victims during difficult interviews.

“At that point, we’ll go wherever they need us,” Sola Del Vigo said. “We can come in here for interviews, or go into the field. I think he’ll be such a flexible dog that we won’t have any issues doing what they need us to do.”

“His role will be to help victims feel comfortable, help them deal with stress,” added Lt. Paul Lower, the Police Department’s spokesman.

Semper’s services will be available at no cost to the Olympia Police Department, Lower said. He doesn’t technically belong to the department - he’s Sola Del Vigo’s dog, and the duo will donate their services once Semper is qualified.

In the meantime, Semper has been getting to know his community - and the community has been getting to know Semper.

He made his debut on July 28 at an Olympia City Council meeting. Sola Del Vigo said she’s proud of how he handled being in a room with so many people. It was definitely the largest crowd he’s encountered so far, she said.

The following day, the Police Department released a video featuring Semper doing a variety of things - waking up, boarding an Intercity Transit bus, and sitting down for school with Melnic.

Lower said they put together the video to introduce Semper to Olympia.

Making the video also served as a training exercise for Semper, taking him to places he might not normally visit. Sola Del Vigo said she was especially impressed by how he handled himself on the bus.

“I was so proud because he really rose to the challenge, being in all those new places,” Sola Del Vigo said.

The Olympia Police Department’s K9 program has become one of the most visible aspects of the department, with Melnic visiting schools and community gatherings. He’s also the star of an annual downtown scavenger hunt called “Where’s Melnic?”

“We’re hoping that (Semper will) have some of the demeanor and some of the appeal that Melnic has,” Lower said. “And we’re already seeing it.”

But that’s not too much of a surprise - the two dogs are distantly related, and came from the same kennel in the Czech Republic, Sola Del Vigo said.

The two dogs have met a couple times, and get along well. Sola Del Vigo said that Semper is very focused on her, and Melnic is very focused on his handler, Officer Randy Wilson, so there haven’t been any real conflicts.

“At one point, Semper did steal Melnic’s tug, and Melnic let him know that that wasn’t something he should do,” Sola Del Vigo said.

Semper’s training schedule gets him and Sola Del Vigo out of bed at 6 a.m. every day. They begin with obedience training and focus exercises. Sola Del Vigo makes sure that the training stays fun and positive.

“He’s motivated to work with me, he’s motivated to have fun with me,” she said.

As trust builds between partners, they visit new places and enter new situations together.

Semper is Sola Del Vigo’s first German shepherd, but he isn’t her first dog. She has been involved in dog training for a while, but Semper is the first therapy dog Sola Del Vigo has trained.

Semper has done a lot to boost morale in the Olympia Police Department, and can often be found in the building. “He has been a ball of fun around our department,” Lower said.

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Information from: The Olympian, https://www.theolympian.com

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