K-9 officer Koda joins GVPD


Courtesy / GVSU

Kay Keller, Staff Writer

Despite the black “POLICE DO NOT PET” vest, Grand Valley State University’s new K-9 Koda is incredibly friendly. Koda is a two-year-old black lab and just recently joined the GV Police Department with Officer Kelsey Sietsema.

Getting Koda was a long process. The idea for an explosives K-9 was sparked in 2019 with Officer Kelsey Sietsema and her partner Officer Andrew Hintz. Together, the pair drew up a proposal and it was sent up the ranks. Everyone involved loved the idea and before long, the interview process to find GVSU’s first K-9 officer began.

Several officers interviewed for the position, and in the end, it was offered to Sietsema. She was sent off to K-9 training in Alabama through Vapor Wake Canine company. After a week of classroom learning, Sietsema was assigned a dog.

“They kinda go off your personality, how you are, what work environment the dog will be going back to, and then they pair you with the dog that’s the best fit for you.Sietsema said.“If she didn’t work out, they would always switch you, but we just hit it out of the ballpark right from the get-go.”

Koda is an explosives detection dog, who also has training in firearm detection. Not all dogs trained in explosives are able to detect firearms, but Koda’s exceptional nose qualified her for the special training.

GVSU opted for an explosives dog over other types, such as narcotics or detainment, for many reasons. Her most important responsibilities will involve patrolling events on campus, such as football games, large student gatherings and special events. Her goal is to keep campus safe and to break the ice between officers and the community they serve.

“Having a black lab, actually a lab in general opens up that conversation because people want to come over and pet the dog,” Sietsema said. “A drug dog has a very negative connotation as opposed to an explosives detection dog that’s only used to protect the community. Not to have a dog that’s used for enforcement or to get people into trouble.”

Before the football game against Colorado State University-Pueblo, Koda and Sietsema did a safety sweep of the entire stadium. The pair walked through the stands, across the field, and even checked out the President’s box to make sure that nothing was out of place.

To keep her skills sharp, the duo trains constantly. Training for Koda includes open field searches, plant searches, and general detection. When she signals that a scent has been found, Koda gets a reward: her ball. Though she has many toys, she gets a ball only as a training reward.

“She loves training, she loves working,” Sietsema said. “When we’re training and she finds an explosive odor that we have planted somewhere, her favorite toy that she gets rewarded is a ball, so I throw the ball where the source is and it keeps her focused on that area where it’s coming from.”

Since Koda is always at Sietsema’s side, they go on their patrols together. Koda will frequently be seen on campus. While she is more than happy to see everyone, sometimes her attention can’t be taken from work.

When Koda is on duty, she wears a vest that reads “DO NOT PET”, but when she is off duty, the patch is replaced with one that reads “ASK TO PET”. Officer Sietsema encourages people to come to ask pet Koda and engage in conversations when she is wearing her off-duty vest, but does ask that people don’t attempt to distract Koda when she is working.