For K-9 Sgt. Hawk, vest donation was Spot-on
At first glance, Spot and Hawk have little in common, aside from furry faces and four legs.
Spot, a Boston terrier, loved to snuggle and could be impatient with lagging humans as she led hikes around Codorus State Park with Wendy Ebersole Looker, a state environmental education specialist for a decade until retiring earlier this year.
Sgt. Hawk, a German shepherd who's the third and most recent K-9 officer in the York County Sheriff's Office, is trained to be cool and calm — and to unfailingly obey the commands of his handler, Cpl. Corey Strine.
But like Spot was, Hawk is dedicated to helping the public. And it's thanks to Spot and Looker that Hawk is now safer while on duty.
After Spot died on Christmas Eve 2016 at the age of 10 of throat cancer and congestive heart failure, Looker wanted to do something meaningful in memory of her beloved companion. She especially wanted to honor her little terrier because Spot was such a steadfast friend as Looker herself battled cancer.
"She was right there with me during all my cancer treatments," said Looker, who is now cancer-free. "The only reason I would get out of bed sometimes was to make sure Spot got something to eat or drink. I felt she wasn't even taking care of herself (because) she was so devoted."
'Just endearing': Looker has had many dogs over the years and loved them all, she said. But there was an undeniable connection between Looker and Spot, who was born on Looker's 50th birthday.
"It's not that she was particularly obedient or did anything special. She was just endearing," Looker said. "She was goofy and loved to make people laugh."
Looker raised $600, which was matched by the Florida-based Mona Pants Foundation, and the money was used to buy a K-9 ballistic vest for Hawk, according to York County Sheriff Richard Keuerleber. The nonprofit foundation raises money to pay the medical bills of sick Boston terriers and also buys ballistic vests for K-9s.
"It's great when the community steps forward and contributes to a good cause," Keuerleber said, noting that law enforcement K-9 officers are valuable assets. Hawk's vest will help protect him from bullets, knifes and sharp objects.
"For them to do something to keep part of our team safe? That goes a long way," Keuerleber said.
"I'm not big on flowers or things that don't have a lasting effect or benefit someone else," Looker said. "In Spot's case, we wanted to benefit a dog — a dog that has a strong connection to people."
Looker said it's her hope that people hear about Hawk's vest donation being made in Spot's memory and consider honoring their own pets by raising money for a worthwhile cause.
Stroll with Spot: Looker, who spent nine of her 10 years as Codorus State Park's state environmental education specialist, said she and her tiny Boston terrier spent about eight years hosting the Stroll with Spot program, in which they would lead people and their dogs on hikes through the park, usually on Sunday mornings.
"She'd want them to line up, and heaven forbid someone would walk in front of her," recalled Looker, who also is a state-certified wildlife rehabilitator and founder of York County-based Rehabitat Inc.
Spot knew the route and wanted to lead the way. Looker said the lead dog tolerated slowpokes stopping to admire or sniff the flora — for a while.
"But then it was time to go," Looker said.
Spot was featured in "Stroll with Spot" posters, and other state parks were inspired to start their own dog-hiking programs, according to Looker.
First-aid model: Spot also assisted Looker in other educational programs at Codorus, such as pet first aid and teaching the essentials of responsible camping with dogs. Spot was patient and helpful as Looker used her to explain the basics of pet first aid.
"We'd do everything but take her temperature," Looker said. "We didn't put her through that indignity."
Spot also was one of about a half-dozen of the Looker family's Boston terriers to participate in the park's Adventure Camp, which gave inner-city kids a chance to swim, kayak and simply explore the natural world. It's one of Looker's favorite memories about her career at the park.
"We were shocked at how much the kids loved the dogs," she said; happily, snuggling was Spot's favorite recreational activity.
Spot slipped away while cuddling with Looker under flannel sheets, said Looker, who marveled at Spot's connection to children, other dogs and people, as well as her ability to help people connect with each other.
Hawk graduated from his K-9 training academy April 27, according to the sheriff's office. He was purchased and donated to the office by the Hawk Club, also known as Hawk Gunning Club, in Springettsbury Township.
For more information about the Mona Pants Foundation, visit "Mona Pants" on Facebook.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.