K-9 team brings smiles and safety to Providence Portland

When you walk through the halls of Providence Portland Medical Center, you may notice two K-9 teams: K9s Nix and Zeke, and their handlers, security officers Patricia and Jimmy. As a pilot program, the teams have thus far proven effective by smelling out, seizing and safely removing items and substances from the hospital that could put people in danger. The K-9 pilot program was made possible by a generous donor to our foundation.

Important work

Nix isn’t a therapy dog, though Patricia admits that has almost become part of his job. People are just happy to see him. While Nix clearly enjoys the attention, he is a working dog, and he knows it. His demeanor can change in an instant, like the flip of a switch. Or, in exchange of a toy.

“He’s working for his next paycheck, and that toy is his paycheck,” Patricia says, referring to Nix’s current favorite “tug” toy. Nix has different toys in his mouth when he’s not in “search mode.”

Nix, a German shorthaired pointer from Croatia, is trained to detect narcotics and firearms, along with ammunition and explosives that contain black powder and smokeless powder, including pipe bombs. When he’s in search mode, Nix’s nose has a wide-yet-thorough focus that includes doorways, rooms, open areas, bags and people.

Nix goes door-to-door, up and down the hallways. When his powerful nose catches the scent of something that shouldn’t be there, he stops, drops to the ground, and casts an unbreakable stare in the direction of the odor.

What happens next can vary depending on the situation. Providence security teams are not the police, and Patricia tries to make that clear. They are also not trying to “get” anyone. Instead, their goal is to make sure the hospital is safe for everyone.

“Ultimately, this is a healing environment,” she says.

When further action is necessary, medical staff are notified and are present in the room as Nix conducts his search. Depending on the severity of the situation and what is found, supervisors may be contacted, and police can also be called to the scene.

Safety takes a team effort, and Patricia says our K-9 teams are an important tool toward that goal.

“This is really about building bridges,” she says. “And it helps that the dogs are super cute.”

Lifestyle change

Providence K-9 teams aren’t just co-workers, they are family. The dogs go home with the security officers at the end of the day. “Being a K-9 handler isn’t just a job, it’s a lifestyle change,” Patricia says.

Patricia and Nix trained for seven weeks in Alabama. When they returned to the Pacific Northwest, Patricia moved into a new home that had enough space for Nix and her other dog, Clover.

Even at work, Patricia says it’s important for Nix to have breaks, like any caregiver. There’s a grassy area on the Providence Portland campus that is out of the way and not used for anything in particular. That’s become a favorite area for Patricia and Nix to play fetch, tug-of-war and take a breath.

“It’s important to me that he still gets to enjoy life as a happy dog,” she says.

Previous Article
Targeting cancer cells: Two studies take different approaches
Targeting cancer cells: Two studies take different approaches

A study designed to treat recurrent epithelial ovarian cancer looks at an antibody drug conjugate, and a se...

Next Article
The evolution of cancer immunotherapy: Dr. Urba shares his insights
The evolution of cancer immunotherapy: Dr. Urba shares his insights

Providence Cancer Institute chief medical officer Walter J. Urba, M.D., Ph.D. talks about the evolution of ...