A pet paparazzi follows Cain wherever he travels.
Only steps into Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital’s main lobby on a recent weekday, a crowd gathers around the young Spectrum Health police dog.
Mackenzie Moore, 5, of Muskegon, strokes the shepherd’s thick black fur.
“He is beautiful,” little Mackenzie says. “I wish we had one.”
Adults stop and gawk at the handsome black canine. Some snap photos with their cell phones.
“He’s gorgeous,” a woman in a Michigan T-shirt says, as Cain chews on a tennis ball. She reaches out to pet him.
It’s like this whenever Cain makes his rounds, according to the police dog’s handler, Officer John McGarry.
So popular is this pup that stopping for passersby can add almost an hour to the trek from the Butterworth Hospital lobby to Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, where Cain visits young patients and coaxes smiles.
On this warm afternoon, McGarry demonstrates Cain’s willpower to the crowd gathered in the lobby. He places a tennis ball out of the shepherd’s reach. Cain craves it. You can see it his cinnamon-hued eyes.
“Sit, back,” McGarry says firmly.
“Take it,” McGarry says after a few moments.
Cain lunges and scoops the ball with his mouth in one smooth motion.
“When there’s something he really wants and you don’t let him have it, it builds tolerance,” McGarry explains to the onlookers.
Spectrum Health purchased Cain from the Netherlands last year. American German shepherds are bred for show, with a slant back that doesn’t hold up well to the rigors of police and security work, according to McGarry. All of Spectrum Health’s dogs—Cain, Fix and Rex—come from overseas. A fourth dog will be added to the roster soon.
McGarry and Cain met the day before Thanksgiving on a Spectrum Health parking ramp.
“I dropped down to my knees and hugged him,” said McGarry, an Air Force veteran who has been a K-9 handler and trainer since 1996. “He pushed into me. We had an instant bond.”
But that bond would be tested in the coming days. Spectrum Health dogs live with their handlers. The 2-year-old was slim on training and, despite having the word “police” in his title, very much a puppy.
“He was destructive,” McGarry said. “On the way home, he pulled his leash into the kennel and chewed his leash to pieces.”
No pun intended, but McGarry wondered if he had bitten off more than he could chew.
Cain proceeded to wreck the tray in his indoor kennel. Then he got sick and left “presents” all over McGarry’s house.
The duo took part in police training academy, up to 12 hours a day, seven days a week, for four weeks.
“It was a rough training,” McGarry said. “The dogs got tired, we got tired. We had to do walk-throughs of the hospital to get him acclimated to the environment. We did slow, soft introductions to everything. We worked nights because there was less traffic at night.”
Cain now excels at his main duty—visiting young patients.
“He is so keyed in with kids,” McGarry said. “If a nurse is walking around with a baby who is crying, he gets upset. When my niece and nephew spend the night, he’ll stand guard at my niece’s pack-and-play while she sleeps. He’s very good with kids.”
Cain and McGarry exit the elevator on the seventh floor of the children’s hospital, where 3-year-old Kendalyn Archer is being treated for a blood disorder.
Cain puts his front paws on Kendalyn’s bed and licks the little girl’s cheek and hair.
A smile creeps across her face, where none was before.
“He’s soft and pretty,” Kendalyn says.
Next, Cain is off to visit Bronson Froster, 4, in a play room. Cain lays a wet one on the little boy with full lapping tongue.
“He got pretty happy when he saw the dog,” said Bronson’s dad, Zach.
Further down the hall, Cain stops in to visit Kuru Krysiak, 9, who is a quintuplet.
Krysiak and three of his siblings pet Cain as the shepherd stands on Kuru’s bed.
“He’s helping put smiles on people’s faces,” says McGarry, standing tall next to the bed, much like a proud father. “This is what it’s all about.”
But Cain has more serious duties, too. He is trained to listen only to McGarry and understands commands in Dutch, German and English.
He can sniff for explosives, and did so prior to the arrival of the King and Queen of the Netherlands in early June.
McGarry said when the King learned Spectrum Health had a dog from the Netherlands, he asked to meet him.
“They all loved him,” McGarry said.
Spectrum Health dogs are not trained to sniff for drugs, according to McGarry, because of the many medications used on site.
And, sometimes, the dogs can provide an ounce of intimidation when needed.
McGarry said one time he walked with Cain into the emergency department when some suspected gang members were present.
“They got up and left,” McGarry said. “There’s a deterrent factor, too.”
But pure souls appear to share only pure love with Cain and the other Spectrum Health dogs.
“Their primary purpose is to reduce anxiety and help people feel better about being in the hospital,” McGarry said. “Nobody expects to see a dog in a hospital. He helps cheer up visitors and he helps patients smile. They all love Cain. I’m just the guy at the end of the leash.”
If you’d like to donate to support the Spectrum Health K-9 program, email Tara.Werkhoven@SpectrumHealth.org or send a check to the Spectrum Health Foundation, 100 Michigan St. NE MC004, Grand Rapids, MI 49503 and write “K-9 program” in the memo line.