New citizen dreams of training K9s

By Sara Bruestle | Aug 21, 2013
Courtesy of: Marina Casanelles Marina Casanelles, of Mukilteo, trained her German shepherd, Aki, to find narcotics, and her blind English cocker spaniel, Stevie, to find human remains. Her goal is to someday train dogs for law enforcement. Casanelles became a U.S. citizen on Aug. 5.

Ironically, Marina Casanelles wasn’t yet a citizen when she graduated from the Citizens Police Academy, a class that gives the public an inside look at the Mukilteo Police Department.

Casanelles, 41, of Mukilteo, was sworn in as a U.S. citizen on Aug. 5 in a naturalization ceremony held at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Seattle. She took the oath of citizenship with 70 others from 35 countries and nations.

“That was not by plan,” said Casanelles, who came to America from Spain on a student visa. “My goal was to go back to Spain.”

Though it wasn’t planned, Casanelles married an American and stayed in the United States for about 20 years. She was content with her green card until she realized her dream was to work in law enforcement as a police K9 trainer. For that, she needed to be a citizen.

“It’s hard to be involved in law enforcement, if you’re not inside the law enforcement,” she said. “I want to help and be a part of where I live. I think I could make a big difference.”

Citizen or not, Police Chief Rex Caldwell said Casanelles has already helped the community as a police volunteer. She’s been volunteering for the Mukilteo Police Department for a year.

“Her work as a volunteer with MPD and other work around town enhances our community,” Caldwell said. “She’s been a good addition to the team. I think she’ll do very well for the citizens of Mukilteo.”

The process to become a U.S. citizen was simpler than Casanelles expected.

She had to fill out an application, provide ample documentation, get fingerprinted, interviewed (to prove she could speak English) and then take a test.

The test covered American history, politics and geography, for which the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services provided her a handbook with 100 questions and answers. Of those 100 questions, she was asked 10. If she answered six correctly, she passed.

She aced the test.

“I thought it was too easy,” Casanelles said. “I was ready to answer all 100 of them.”

Some of the questions: Where is the Statue of Liberty located? Who was the first president of America? Name two American holidays. How many amendments make up the U.S. Constitution?

That same day, Aug. 5, Casanelles swore in as an American. She was so overjoyed at the ceremony that she cried. Now, she no longer feels like a foreigner – she’s a fellow American, an equal.

“It was very emotional to become an American,” she said. “I feel I’m an equal to everybody. Before, I didn’t feel equal.”

Casanelles is now a dual citizen of America and Spain – though she’ll have to pick just one if the two countries ever go to war.

“I wanted to be part of this country,” she said. “I have two homes – one is in Spain, the other is here. I feel I belong to both places now.”

In 1993, Casanelles moved to Florida from Barcelona, Spain to study the English language and veterinary technology at St. Petersburg College.

After graduation, she met her future husband. They were married in 2000, and she traded in her student visa for a green card, granting her permanent residency in the United States.

In 2001, she and husband, Joseph Sohblerg, moved to Spain and lived there for three years. Their two boys, now 11 and 9, were born in Barcelona. They moved back to Florida in 2005.

Casanelles later studied at Tarheel Canine, a training kennel in North Carolina. It took her three years to finish six months of training, driving up and staying in Sanford, N.C. a month at a time. She was certified as a police K9 trainer in 2011.

“That has always been my dream job,” she said. “I’m good at training dogs, so I want to do that to help the community.”

Casanelles fosters dogs and trains them as search and rescue, cadaver, service and therapy dogs, as well as for obedience, but now she wants to do more. Her goal is to become a K9 trainer for the Mukilteo Police Department – if and when it gets its own K9 team.

A Mukilteo resident for two years, Casanelles is now a student at Shoreline Community College, studying criminal justice.

Chief Caldwell, also an instructor at Shoreline, taught her police ethics class.

“I love the classes,” Casanelles said, adding that the chief’s class was particularly inspiring. “They opened my eyes. Thanks to the classes, now I want to be in the law enforcement.”

Casanelles owns two certified K9s, herself – a German shepherd trained to find narcotics and an English cocker spaniel trained to find human remains.

The German shepherd, named Aki, is 5 years old. The cocker spaniel is blind and named Stevie, after Stevie Wonder. Stevie is 6. Casanelles keeps the dogs trained just in case either of them is needed for a job.

They’ve worked with Casanelles before: She volunteers for Kitsap County Search and Rescue, and was also the commander of the St. Croix Search and Rescue K9 team for a year.

After the Citizens Police Academy, Casanelles also joined the Mukilteo Police Volunteers. She said she enjoys being a part of “Team Mukilteo” because she feels welcome in the police department.

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