The OPP's Canine Unit put on a show Tuesday for Grade 1 students from Mnjikaning Kendaaswin Elementary School.
Students from the Rama First Nation school were invited to OPP General Headquarters in Orillia to meet the canine stars of the unit and learn more about how the well-trained animals help to serve and protect the community.
The event was held to launch the OPP's Canine Unit Calendar, which supports the Friends of the OPP Museum and the OPP Youth Foundation.
"This is the seventh year we've had the calendar," said Rohan Thompson, the OPP's deputy commissioner of traffic safety and operational support. "Last year, we were fortunate to make over $36,000 from these calendars, with all of the profits going back to these two charities."
Thompson says having youth on hand to meet the canine unit members was "a great thing."
"It only breaks down barriers with police," he said. "They have to know that we are here to help them and to support them."
With the kids interacting with canine handlers, Thompson hopes they will understand the career opportunities that are available through the OPP.
"They are only in Grade 1," he acknowledged. "Hopefully, as they get older, they will remember this experience, the officers, and the Canine Unit they were able to meet and interact with."
The students learned how the unit is deployed for search and rescue and suspect apprehension missions.
"It's a big tool that is used probably every single day across this province," Thompson said, noting the unit has 53 dogs and 33 handlers in Ontario.
Students Alex Kwekeboom and Blakely Masterson enjoyed meeting the dogs and their handlers.
"I got to throw a ball past the dog, and he went and caught it," Kwekeboom said. "I have a dog at home, but these dogs are different."
He says the police dogs are "very smart."
"I learned that dogs can be highly trained," he said. "They can be used to save people's lives."
Masterson says the event was "a lot of fun."
"I enjoyed watching the dogs do different tricks," she said. "I didn't know that dogs can be police officers, too."
Bradley Gillespie, program manager and senior instructor for the OPP's canine program, says the calendar program is "super important" to the unit.
"The handlers are super proud of the opportunity to showcase their dogs," he said. "They put a lot of time and training into their dogs. They are very proud of that and the opportunity to help fundraise for some very important programs."
The OPP Canine Unit Calendar can be bought at the OPP Off Duty Shop at OPP General Headquarters on Memorial Avenue in Orillia, or online. They cost $15 each.