Veteran K-9 brings military expertise to Lawrence’s schools

LAWRENCE TOWNSHIP, Ind. (WISH) – Veterans come in all shapes and sizes and different walks of life. Some of them even walk on four legs.

And Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township is benefiting from the added protection of having a former active-duty military dog in its schools.

“We love Axel. He fits right in to our LT (Lawrence Township) family,” said Tierney Anderson, principal of Sunnyside Elementary School.

Axel is a 5-year-old German shepherd. In 2013 he was serving on the front lines in Afghanistan.

“He served his country nationally and internationally, and now he’s serving his local community through the township school system,” said Matthew Hickey, Axel’s handler and Lawrence Township police officer.

Axel is a trained narcotics detection dog. He did that work on the battlefield, and continues to do it for Lawrence schools.

“It’s just basically another way he can continue his community service,” said Hickey.

Before going into the schools, Axel and Hickey both went through training at AMK9 in Alabama. The organization specializes in repatriating and training K-9s for use in schools and police departments.

But training wasn’t enough. Lawrence needed money. That’s where Texas-based K9s4COPs comes in.

Earlier this year they supplied a grant securing K-9s for police departments and school districts in Indiana, Texas, Tennessee, Nebraska and Georgia.

Axel is the only former military dog serving in Marion County. He’s also the only full-time Lawrence police officer dedicated to the city’s schools.

“What you find is you have this very strong service connection and dedication towards that accomplished goal,” said fellow veteran and IMPD officer Ronald Rehmel.

The accomplished goal he’s talking about is service – whether on the battlefield, in a school, or even at a crime scene.

“We depend on those K-9 units to arrive to help us in a lot of the investigations that we do, but at the school level, what we’re finding with Axel, he is a tremendous asset to this body, this school and the east side community,” said Rehmel.

At Sunnyside, they say the benefit isn’t only being able to enforce the district’s no-drug policy but also being able to interact with an officer – both K-9 and human.

“He’s been a real blessing to me. I interact with the kids that normally I wouldn’t be able to interact with because he’s very approachable to the students and staff and faculty. So it does open a lot of conversations,” said Hickey.

But Axel is one of the lucky ones. Had he served in a previous war, we likely wouldn’t know where he is. Military dogs used to be left behind or euthanized. But before leaving office, President Bill Clinton signed a law allowing the dogs to be adopted and requiring the Department of Defense to keep track of them.

Axel will spend the rest of his professional career in Lawrence. In addition to sniffing out drugs, he can also sniff out humans, so if a child or senior goes missing Axel will be there to help.