WATERTOWN — The story of a Jefferson County K-9 has transcended borders, reaching far and wide, with the goal of educating children and raising money for a deserving organization.
K-9 Abel, a Belgian Malinois, was born in Ontario, Canada, on March 12, 2016, and joined the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office K-9 Unit in March 2017. A dual-purpose K-9 trained and certified in patrol tracking, including suspect apprehension and K-9 handler protection, Abel is also trained and certified in advanced narcotics detection.
From playful pup to a K-9 with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office K-9 Unit, Abel’s story is both interesting and educational. That’s why Deputy Sheriff Jeffrey M. Froelich, of the sheriff’s office, decided to write it all down one day in the form of a children’s book, told from Abel’s perspective: I Am Abel.
Previously a handler for K-9 Lobo, Deputy Froelich has been with K-9 Abel since he’s been with the department. According to Deputy Froelich, the bond between K-9 and handler is like no human shares with a dog.
“We’re with the dogs all the time, they live with us,” he said. “So, when I’m at work he’s at work when I’m at home, he’s at home. You actually spend more time with the dog than you do your own family members. The bond is hard to describe because it’s so special, you know that the dog is there to protect you and to protect the other handlers or any other police officers on your shift. When you’re with an animal that has the ability to protect you and who takes the job very seriously, the bond is incredibly strong and immeasurable.”
Deputy Froelich was a soldier in the Army for 20 years before retiring and joining the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office in July 2008. He spent about three years on regular road patrol before a K-9 position became available. He began with the K-9 unit in December 2011.
Deputy Froelich likes to write and said he wrote the book for fun, thinking it would be a good idea for kids to read to learn what it takes to become a K-9. The story follows Abel’s experience from being selected by Deputy Froelich at the sheriff’s office to beginning his journey and going through his training to become a certified K-9 in New York.
In order for kids to relate to the story and be able to easily understand it, Deputy Froelich tried to parallel Abel’s experiences with training with what they do in school. Abel had homework just like schoolchildren do, and also had to practice certain things like they do. His target age group is first- through fourth-graders.
“It was fairly easy to write because it was just written from personal experience, I live K-9 every day,” Deputy Froelich said. “From start to finish, I think it took me just a little over two hours one night on the computer. The difficult part, or the part that I didn’t know and needed to understand, was the whole publishing process.”
This is the first book Deputy Froelich has had published. After writing the book, he read it to a few elementary teachers he knows to see if they had any interest in it, if it would be something they might read to the kids in their classes.
Receiving positive feedback, he submitted his manuscript to about nine different publishers online to see what type of reaction he would get from the publishing world. Of the nine companies he submitted to, he said all of them wanted the book.
In the end, Deputy Froelich chose to go with Dorrance Publishing Company, Inc., a Pittsburgh, Pa.-based self-publishing company. The company publishes both traditional printed books as well as eBooks and has been in business since 1920, so Deputy Froelich said he figured 100 years in the business, they must know what they’re doing.
The company helped him through the process of signing on, sending the story to the editing team, to getting the covers designed and sending everything over to the legal department. Per Deputy Froelich’s contract with the company, which he said is 23 pages long, the marketing team is responsible for sending out postcards to about 1,000 libraries, bookstores and schools in his geographical area announcing the release of the book.
The book is now on sale through Amazon and other retailers. Proceeds from the sale of the book will go to Protecting K-9 Heroes, a nonprofit organization that provides protective vests and K-9 first aid kits to handlers and their dogs across the country, free of charge.
The decision with what to do with the proceeds of the book was an easy one. Protecting K-9 Heroes provides the vests and first aid kits to handlers who may not be able to afford them. They even provided Abel with his vest and first aid kit, as well as another dog in the unit, so this is a way for Deputy Froelich to do something for the organization in return.
“Abel wears his vest every opportunity that we can; there have been instances where we’ve gone to calls where we knew that there was a weapon involved,” Deputy Froelich said. “If I’m going to that type of call, he suits up. If we know that there’s a situation that warrants it, absolutely the vest goes on.”
From writing the book to having it released and sold with retailers like Amazon, everything took about eight months.
The book officially launched on Oct. 22, and this was the day Deputy Froelich received the first copy in the mail. He sent out a series of messages to friends and family letting them know the book was here, including a representative from the North Country Kennel Club, which provided the funding to buy Abel for the county. Deputy Froelich said he has kept in touch with the group through the years and wanted to let it know about the book because they are personally thanked in it.
About half an hour later, the representative contacted him and told him the book was on Amazon.
“I had no idea,” he said. “That’s when it really hit me, this is a lot bigger than I thought it was gonna be, and it just kind of spiraled from there.”
Able to track sales through his publisher, he found that copies have been sold near and far, with a first-grade teacher in Australia purchasing the book for their class.
“That’s when it became kind of really exciting, when you see something that you did, something that you created, and it’s on sale on Amazon the world over,” Deputy Froelich said.
The book is also for sale on a few British book sales websites, as well as in an eBook form for those who prefer them, and is currently on about 26 websites internationally so far. It is also available on the website for Dorrance Publishing.
Abel lives at home with Deputy Froelich, his wife Dori, and their teenage son Evan. Though he is serious while on the job, Deputy Froelich said he’s just like any other dog when he’s off the clock.
“Abel himself, he’s taken it all in stride, it doesn’t seem to matter to him,” Deputy Froelich said. “As long as he gets to play and gets some good belly rubs when he gets home, he’s OK with it. But if he could talk, and he knew that he was helping out his fellow K-9 buddies across the country, then he’d be proud of himself, I’m sure.”
At home, the Froelichs refer to Abel as BBD, which stands for ‘Big Baby Dog,’ because he likes to lay upside down on Deputy Froelich’s lap like a baby when he’s on the couch. When he’s home from work, he switches from his work collar to his home collar, just like his partner changes from his uniform to his casual clothes.
At first, Deputy Froelich didn’t really tell anyone about the book because he was unsure of whether it was going to be successful. Now, with the reception it’s gotten so far from those who have already begun to receive their books, he is realizing that people are really enjoying it, a success in and of itself.
“It was never about the money for me, never about the fame of being a writer, I did it for fun ... when it was completed I thought it would be a good idea to maybe raise some money for an organization that does everything that they can to make sure that K-9 handlers and their partners have protective gear so when they go out, they can be safe,” Deputy Froelich said. “Every time a K-9 handler gets another first-aid kit or gets a protective vest, they’re possibly giving that dog team the ability to save that dog’s life and maybe save the handler’s life as well ... it didn’t really matter to me whether I made $100 profit or I made $10,000 profit. I didn’t care. For me, it has been and always will be all about the dogs.”