The first face to greet you Corewell Health’s Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids might not be human.

It’s likely the fuzzy muzzle of Ray, a 90-pound German Shepard K9.

Ray and his handler Mark Bond have a special connection. They live and work together, and are an important part of the security team at Corewell Health in Grand Rapids.

At the beginning of each shift the two check out parking ramps, walk around the hospital perimeter and scout things out. They stay visible during shift changes and, later at night, work inside the hospital.

Ray and Bond patrol sidewalks, clear hallways and check patient rooms. The K9 team is also used to check supply chain warehouses and buses that transport staff back and forth to parking.

“We like to keep the hospital and all of our patients and team members safe,” Bond said.

Bedside visits

The security team gets a lot of requests for visits from patients at the bedside.

“Our dogs ease anxiety among patients and staff,” Bond said. “It’s a great way to put a friendly face on security and law enforcement.”

At the end of his shift, Ray stopped by the maternity unit to visit an expecting mother waiting to have her baby.

“Hello, security, is it okay if I come in?” Bond asked.

Lauren Oviedo planned to be in the hospital for weeks or until she had her baby.  She said she’d already been at the hospital for days and was looking for things to do.

“They wanted to be sure the baby doesn’t come too prematurely,” Oviedo said. “So, it’s the safest place to be, really.”

Oviedo has a German Shepard named Stormy at home and was excited to see Ray.

“When they said I could have a dog stop by I said, ‘of course,’” she said. “Oh, hi, Ray! He’s so excited, and so pretty. I love his little multi colors. He reminds me so much of my Stormy.”

Oviedo said her parents were watching Stormy until she returned home with the baby.

“It’s so nice to have an animal around,” she said.

Ray stopped by the nursing station on the way out of the unit to say hello to staff too.

Wendy Cebelak is a maternity unit secretary and loves seeing the dogs on a regular basis.

“You’re such a good boy,” she said.

“I love that we can have security dogs here at work. What a great program for our patients and families.”

Sharpening skills

To do his job well, Ray spends time training every week.

That might include a game of hide-and-go-seek.

“We hide explosives, and the dogs sniff them out,” Bond said.

Ray recently trained at the City of Rockford with the entire K9 team. They checked fire engines from front to back.

He’ll sit when he finds a smell or wants Officer Bond to check something out.

He and his partners all take turns leading training efforts for the force.

And each dog gets some play time as a reward after a search gone well .

“We try to make it a big celebration after they find the mark,” Bond explained. “Positive reinforcement works really well.”

Back at the hospital their shift starts with some obedience training. Suitcases and backpacks are laid out across the floor with various scents on each one.

There is an array of cinder blocks too–they all look the same to eliminate any patterns.

“They have to use their nose to find what they’re looking for,” Bond said.

Ray carefully sniffs each brick to see if anything seems amiss and checks out a variety of wooden boxes with holes in the top.

“There are different commands to search for human odor versus an explosive odor,” Bond explained.

He took his car keys and put his scent on it to show how it works.

With a quick command, Ray knew he was supposed to find the keys, and quickly began looking for them.

He found them in less than 30 seconds.

“This is helpful if we are tracking someone,” Bond said. “For instance, in a domestic violence call, a person may toss their weapon after using it. Our dogs find these items and they become pieces of evidence in court.”

Bond said his team gets called to check objects a lot.

“Random boxes and bags show up in front of the hospital from time to time when someone forgets to bring something inside,” he said. “But we have to take every instance seriously.”

On the clock

On the job, Ray spends free time sniffing up and down hallways. The tops of counters. Inside small nooks and crannies.

“You name it, he’s checking it out,” Bond said.

And when he finds something he’s supposed to, he is rewarded with his favorite toy–a giant Kong.

“He can’t have lacrosse balls, as he’ll just swallow them,” Bond joked. “He’s just so big.”

Bond said there are markers everywhere and he watches Ray closely for queues that he may be on to something.

“His breathing and sniffing will even change,” he said. “He gets extremely high energy levels when he’s looking for smells.”

The K9 unit not only looks after the hospital but surrounding municipalities too.

Officer Bond and Ray assisted during a recent bomb threat at Fremont Middle School.

“We had to go through the entire middle school,” Bond said. “Lockers. Classrooms. You name it.”

The city relied upon three Corewell Health K9s and one law enforcement agent.

“We checked all of the vehicles and any surrounding spaces too,” he said. 

After a hard day’s work

Bond’s favorite part about the job: He has his dog at his side.

“It’s nice to be able to go visit with patients,” Bond said. “We provide a service and safety to the hospital, but also to the community. These dogs are an amazing resource for everyone.”

At the end of their shift, they head north of town to join Bond’s wife and their cat Homer at the farm they call home. Here, Ray is off duty.

“Ray cares nothing about the cat,” Bond said. “The cat comes right up and gives him a paw to the face sometimes.”

Ray is too consumed with resting up for his next shift to care.