MAYS LANDING — At first, Andrew Pollack wasn’t too sure when he got a call last year asking whether a dog that was going to be trained to protect students against active shooters could be named after his daughter, Meadow.
Meadow, 18, was one of the 17 people killed during the February 2018 shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. She was shot four times, Pollack said, then threw herself over another student and was shot five more times.
“When you think about it, my daughter would have wanted it,” Pollack said Friday afternoon just before Meadow the dog’s graduation ceremony at the Atlantic County Institute of Technology. “She was a fighter and tried to save other students before she was murdered. If that school had (a dog), it would have saved lives.”
Meadow was one of a class of 15 dogs that graduated from Atlantic County’s John “Sonny” Burke Police K-9 Academy in Corbin City on Friday, including two trained to identify bombs and other explosives that will work at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City.
CORBIN CITY — They call it the Taj Mahal, the Great Adventure of dog-training facilities.
But Meadow stands out among the other dogs as the first K-9 to work in a South Jersey high school to find guns and ammo and to identify and attack an active shooter. She has been working at Cumberland County Technical Education Center in Vineland since September, protecting about 800 students.
“This dog is going to save lives,” Pollack said. “The beauty of it is, you’ll never know how many lives this dog will save because it’s such a deterrent. Most of the people who do these school shootings are cowards and don’t want to go anywhere they’ll be bit.”
Since his daughter’s killing, Pollack has been outspoken about increasing school safety, and that’s what drew Joe Nick, the K-9 training director, and Officer Stephen Manera, Meadow’s handler, to reach out to him, Nick said.
Meadow, a 2-year-old Dutch shepherd, is the first school dog through the academy, Nick said, an idea he’s worked on for five years because he wanted to make a difference.
“It’s a totally new game,” Nick said, adding he and Manera wanted to name the dog Meadow because Pollack has the same goal as he does — “because he spoke up against the world and said, ‘Fix it.’”
Manera, who retired from the state Department of Corrections, said Meadow loves going to work every day at the school, and the kids love her, too.
“I’m going to protect her as much as possible, and she’s going to protect me,” Manera said. “If we can prevent something like what happened to the Pollacks, that’s the goal.”
Nick was able to get Meadow donated and trained her for free.
Meadow identifies sounds that could be gunshots and takes Manera to where the sound is coming from, Nick said. It could be a nail gun or even clapping, but Manera is able to assess the situation to determine whether there’s a threat.
“If a shooter would come to attack the students, she would attack that shooter,” Nick said.
Andre Lopez, director of campus safety and security for the high school, said Meadow is just one layer of safety in addition to 140 cameras inside and outside the buildings and the 14 retired law-enforcement officers who patrol the school, armed, in shifts.
“The biggest thing she does is she’s a big presence on campus,” Lopez said. “She’s a deterrent.”
Lopez, along with Superintendent Dina Rossi, said the students are respectful of Meadow, knowing she’s not a pet, and her job is to protect them.
“We don’t remember life before her,” Rossi said. “It’s like she’s always been here.”
During his speech at the graduation, Pollack said K-9s aren’t cowards, like humans can sometimes be, and that they will always go toward danger.
“They’re going to save lives,” Pollack said. “It’s not going to be like what happened with my daughter and those other children. I see this could be the first of many schools to have a dog like Meadow.”