YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — Like any cop about to start his shift, city police officer Jason Sletvold checks his gear.
He has his vest, radio and body cam. He has his gun, extra ammo, chemical spray and stun gun. He has his handcuffs and water. He has dog treats and bite gloves.
Dog treats? Bite gloves?
Yes, that is correct. Because Sletvold doesn’t just look for crime. He looks for dogs.
Although most of the time, it is the dogs that find him.
Sletvold, who works a shift on midnights alternating between a city wide car and a North Side car, is a dog lover who has taken over 10 dogs to the pound since September that he sees while on patrol.
If it sounds unconventional, that fits the mold for the 47-year-old Sletvold, who is not your conventional cop.
Sletvold has been a cop for 9 years and came to Youngstown after part time stints at Lisbon and Youngstown State University.
Yet he did not start his law enforcement career until his late 30s. A Canfield High School graduate, he worked at Lear Seating in Lordstown but lost his job when Lear closed following the demise of the General Motors plant in Lordstown.
He had always wanted to be a cop, so there he was in his 30s getting his criminal justice degree from Youngstown State University, not the first non traditional student at YSU and certainly not the last.
When he started at YPD, he was thrown into the fire immediately. In one of his first weeks on the job, he answered a call for a fight with his training officer at a house on the South Side. The parties were separated, one on the porch, one in the house, when the person on the porch walked in the house, chased by the training officer, and the officers heard gunfire.
The training officer ordered the man who was on the porch to come out at gunpoint, which he did. He gave officers his gun and was taken into custody. He had shot and killed the boyfriend of his daughter while the boyfriend was holding the child they shared. He was later convicted at trial of voluntary manslaugher.
At first, assigned a midnight shift beat on the South Side, Sletvold has been the first officer to respond to several homicides but he got a quieter beat when he moved to the North Side at the beginning of the year.
And because it is quieter in his new assignment, and also because he occasionally gets to patrol the entire city as a “floater” car, that gives him the opportunity to take any stray dogs he finds to the Mahoning County Dog Pound.
“I can hit all four sides of the city,” he said.
On a recent dreary, drizzly night, he talked about it as he drove around the city, several of the streets reeking of marijuana after the sun went down.
The married father of a 17-year-old son with a baby on the way in March, Sletvold also has four rescue dogs at home. There’s Duke, a 7-year-old Great Dane; Bentley, a 6-year-old Rottweiler; Rocco, a 4-year-old Lab/Shepherd mix; and Murray, a 5-year-old Great Dane.
He has liked dogs since he was a kid, even when he was mauled by a Husky at the age of 10 and lost a significant portion of his bottom lip. Undeterred, when he turned 18 he went to the dog pound and adopted a puppy that he had for several years until the dog passed on.
Sometimes, he said, people will call 911 to report a stray dog and he will either find the dog when he arrives or they will have the dog on a leash, ready for him to pick up.
Other times, he sees the dogs himself and if he can, he stops and coaxes them into his cruiser. That’s where the treats come in. And the bite gloves.
They came in handy when he found a Mastiff mix on Interstate 680 north last month near the Powersdale exit. The dog tried to bite him a couple of times before he was able to get the dog and take it to the pound.
“She sensed once I got the collar out I was trying to help her,” Sletvold said.
He found another dog at a Market Street drug store going through the trash. Other dogs have been found on Delaware, Wilbur, Desoto, Belmont Avenue and Glenwood Avenue, just to name a few places.
One disturbing trend Sletvold said he has been encountering recently is the number of dogs that are on leashes. He said people are taking the dogs places then letting them go. He said the most stray dogs appear to be on the South and East sides.
Although Sletvold finds no dogs on this wretched evening, Lisa Hill, kennel supervisor at the Mahoning County Dog Pound, said Sletvold is known by the staff.
“We know he brings in a lot of dogs and we really appreciate it,” she said.
Hill said Youngstown, Boardman and Austintown police are the departments who bring in the most dogs after hours. She estimated at least five dogs a week are taken to the pound after hours.
Having the officers bring in dogs after hours is a huge help, Hill said, and several times the officers will either come back to check on them or call to ask how they are doing.
Anyone who wants to adopt a dog can fill out an application on the county’s website, Hill said. After that is processed, a meet and greet will then be arranged with the dog.
The night is an uneventful one, with one call for a 911 hangup and another from a man who wants to report his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend is harassing him. Sletvold takes the report from the man and continues on patrol towards the West Side, then a quick stop at the pound. A pit mix has been dropped off by an Austintown officer. The dog is wary at first in his cage, but warms up to Sletvold and a visitor, out of the cold and the rain and hopefully on his way to a new home and a new life.