WEST GROVE, PA — Throughout this school year, students in the Veterinary Science and Animal Science programs at the Technical College High School (TCHS) Pennock’s Bridge Campus have learned that not all heroes wear capes. In fact, some heroes use a set of wheels to get around, love to play and enjoys eating treats. Yukon, a 10-year-old German Shepard, is a retired patrol and explosive detection K-9 dog that has had an incredible impact on the students, instructors and administrators at TCHS Pennock’s Bridge Campus.
Yukon was a member of the Chester County Sheriff’s Office, where he served the citizens of Chester County faithfully for nine years with his partner, Corporal Brian Bolt. Yukon has completed explosive searches for federal, state and local municipalities during his tenure. Yukon, as a member of the United States Police Canine Association (USPCA), placed 2nd in a national explosive detection competition.
When it was time for Yukon to retire as a K-9 in March 2019, Corporal Bolt and his wife Lauren made the decision to adopt Yukon. “There wasn’t even a thought in my mind that Yukon wouldn’t always be with me, he wouldn’t go anywhere else if I had a say about it,” said Bolt. However, shortly after Yukon’s retirement, the Bolt family began to notice that something wasn’t quite right. After an extensive medical evaluation, the Bolts were told that Yukon had degenerative myelopathy (DM), a genetic disease affecting the spinal cord, resulting in slowly progressive hind limb weakness and paralysis that ultimately results in death.
Corporal Bolt and Lauren were shocked when they found out the diagnosis. “It was absolutely devastating. He is such a healthy dog that doesn’t have many of the issues common to German Shepherds. We wanted to be able to fix it, but we couldn’t. So, we wanted to give the best life we could in the time that he has left,” said Lauren Bolt. As the Bolts were dealing with the news of Yukon’s diagnosis, they also began to notice that he seemed to be depressed after he stopped working. “He wasn’t really eating all that much and he seemed really lethargic, which is unusual since he was always so full of energy and life. We were really worried about him,” said Lauren Bolt.
Corporal Bolt, as it turns out, had conducted demonstrations with Yukon at TCHS Pennock’s Bridge Campus for students in the Criminal Justice & Police Sciences program for a couple of years. Lauren had also known Joan Farwell, who is the Veterinary Science instructor at TCHS Pennock’s Bridge Campus. When Yukon was displaying unusual behaviors, Farwell suggested that they bring Yukon to TCHS Pennock’s Bridge Campus so that the students could take care of him during the day. Starting in August of 2019, the Bolts began to bring in Yukon to TCHS Pennock’s Bridge Campus every day and immediately noticed a change.
Once Yukon started to come to TCHS, students had the idea to begin taking him on a patrol of the building twice a day. “Yukon, as a retired K-9 dog, has put his life on the line to help keep all of us safe. Helping him now is the least we could do to say thank you. We help take care of him, but I think he believes that his job now is to take care of us. He brings his favorite ball with him on patrol, and the students, staff and administrators love seeing him every day,” said Farwell.
Both Corporal Bolt and Lauren also noticed the change in Yukon. “He went to work every day for nine years, so he was confused at first when he wasn’t working. But once we got him in the program at the school, he felt like he was being productive again,” said Corporal Bolt. Lauren concurred with her husband that going to TCHS had a dramatic impact on Yukon.
“We absolutely noticed a change with him once he started going to TCHS. I pack all of his things in a backpack and so he now knows that when the backpack comes out, he is going to school. He acts as excited as he was when he would go on patrol,” said Lauren Bolt.
One of the initial challenges for the students was that, as a symptom of degenerative myelopathy (DM), Yukon lost mobility in his hind legs not long after coming to TCHS. As a result, he had to transition to using a set of wheels in order to get around, which was a real struggle for him.
Aubrey Lonsinger, a senior in the Veterinary Science program from the Octorara Area School District, came up with a solution to help Yukon adjust to his wheels. “He was struggling to walk when he first got his wheels. I decided to experiment with booties that he was using to help give him more traction and after this adjustment, his mobility has really improved,” said Lonsinger.
On a typical day, the students brush Yukon, soak his paws in Epsom salt, play with him, take him on patrols around the school, help him into and out of his wheels, feed him and also make sure he has plenty of treats. As Courtney Cambria, an instructional assistant in the Veterinary Science program noted, “Yukon has become a part of not just our Veterinary and Animal Science families, but a part of our TCHS Pennock’s Bridge family.”
One of the most difficult aspects for students caring for Yukon is the knowledge that degenerative myelopathy (DM) is a progressive disease that will eventually claim his life. Fiona Broadway, a senior in the Veterinary Science program from the Oxford Area School District, noted the emotional impact of caring for Yukon. “It’s sad to see him lose functions, but it makes me feel great that we can give him a job and help him be happy. Since he started coming here and doing his patrols, he has been constantly happy,” said Broadway.
For Farwell, this has been a valuable learning experience for her students as they seek to become veterinarians someday. “The students have learned so much about empathy and caring for a dog like Yukon, who is suffering from this progressive disease. This experience is helping students prepare for the difficult, emotional side of being a veterinarian, especially when having to work with animals who you know will pass away,” said Farwell.
While TCHS students have helped Yukon, Mia Savelloni, a junior in the Veterinary Science program from the Octorara Area School District, feels that Yukon has taught them all valuable lessons about how to live. “Since we hope to work with animals in the veterinary field, it really helps us to work with a special dog like Yukon. As much as we may help him, he is helping us in so many more ways. He is really teaching us how to live in the moment, appreciate those around us and how important it is to really care for others,” said Savelloni.
Lauren Bolt is incredibly grateful for the impact that the students at TCHS have had on Yukon. “If he wasn’t at TCHS now doing what he is doing, I don’t know that he would still be with us. The program has changed his outcome. They have helped him thrive and there is no way we can ever put into words how grateful we are for the students and all they have done,” said Bolt.
Once Yukon retired, the Retired Police Canine Foundation stepped in to help the Bolts with some of his medical bills, and Dr. Justin Yesilonis, a member of the Elk Creek Veterinary Services team based out of Oxford, continues to sponsor some of his medical care. For those interested in learning more about how to help to support retired K-9 dogs, please visit https://www.policek9help.com/.
Source: Chester County Intermediate Unit
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