Afternoon. First Baptist Church in Pensacola, Florida. America’s oldest continuously occupied city. Look it up.
Taylor has a lot of work to do today. It’s the Christmas season, and this is the biggest day, annually, of Taylor’s career.
Taylor is an officer with the Pensacola Police Department, a detective of sorts. Electronics-detection. Taylor’s day job is catching bad guys who abuse kids. In fact, you could say that Taylor’s life is all about protecting children.
Taylor is 4 years old. He is an English Labrador.
Before he came to the PPD, he was a failed service dog for the elderly. His trainers flunked him because he kept trying to play with the tennis balls on people’s walkers.
“Friendly animal,” his former trainers noted, “but lacks focus, and talks too much in class.”
So he was trained as a police dog. He was an instant success.
“And he’s great with kids,” says one officer. “He’s one of our most valuable guys on the force. We don’t mind that he drinks from the toilet.”
Today, however, Taylor is serving as police liaison to a bunch of kids.
1:44 p.m., Officer Taylor arrives at First Baptist with Officer Ike Isenberg, his partner. Taylor’s tail is wagging so hard his butt almost falls off.
The church parking lot is chock-full of busted Hondas, dilapidated Chevys and outmoded Nissans. There are cop cars galore.
Taylor excitedly bounds out of the vehicle and prances toward the church.
December has been a busy month for the department. All month, officers have been buying gifts for underprivileged kids in town.
These are kids whom officers run into on the job. Maybe the child’s family member was arrested. Maybe someone in the home has been murdered.
No matter what the issue, when an officer identifies a kid who is going to have a hard candy Christmas, the kid’s name goes on The List.
Come December, the whole department buys presents for the kids. Whereupon Pensacola’s Finest annually invites all the kids together for a big do at First Baptist. It’s a Herculean event. Lots of cops. Lots of kids. Lots of wrapping paper.
The officers pass out gifts. They let the kids play with the dog. They eat obscene amounts of Chex Mix.
“It’s the best part of our whole year,” says one officer.
Taylor enters the room. The fellowship hall is pure madness. The air is filled with joyous screaming and the scent of little-kid sweat. Children are unwrapping presents. Laughter abounds.
These will be the only gifts many of these kids receive this Christmas. For some, today will be the greatest day of their entire childhood lives.
But the star of today’s show is—without a doubt—Officer Taylor. Taylor trots around the place, wandering through the church off-leash. He is more popular than George Strait at a knitting club.
Gaggles of children are instantly attracted to the canine. The kids rush toward Taylor. They have bright eyes and rosen cheeks. They are dressed in ragged clothes with threadbare pants and holes in the armpits of their T-shirts.
“Can we pet him!?” the kids scream in unison.
“Sure,” say the officers.
In mere moments, kids are hanging off Taylor’s neck. They are hugging him. They are crawling on the floor beside him. These are toddlers, elementary-school kids, and pre-teens.
Everyone loves Taylor.
One little girl bathes Taylor’s face in kisses, from crown to snout. Another little boy is nuzzling the dog, nose-to-nose, confiding in Taylor.
Children are constantly fuzzing Taylor’s fur, yanking his ears, pulling his tail. Taylor is in hog heaven. Namely, because Taylor loves kids. Plus, he is fed enough Cheez-Its to qualify as a misdemeanor in some counties.
“It’ll be a wonder if he doesn’t poop in the car,” remarks one officer.
At the end of the day, when the crowd thins, a lone boy meanders up to Taylor. The boy is timid around dogs.
“Taylor’s a nice doggy,” the boy’s mother reassures him. “Go say hello to the doggy.”
The little boy approaches Taylor. Cautiously. He pets the dog’s head. Taylor leans into the kid. And the boy’s defenses are lowered. He hugs Taylor.
The boy is lean and lank. He is maybe 7. His bare toes are poking through holes in his tattered tennis shoes. It’s December, and the kid isn’t even wearing socks. His little clothes hang off his frail body, and he is underdressed for the cold.
But the kid’s face turns into the Fourth of July when an English Labrador licks him. The boy has a new friend. And friends are a precious commodity in this world.
“What do you think of Taylor?” the officer asks the boy.
“Oh,” says the boy. “He’s the most beautiful dog I ever saw.”
Taylor thinks you’re pretty beautiful, too, kid. And so do Pensacola’s Finest.