Dogs have been formally trained to support law enforcement since the 1800s. Even small police departments have at least one K-9 team, and many medium- and large-sized US cities maintain anywhere from three to several dozen K-9 teams. The most common breed of dog trained for general police duties is the German Shepherd, but other breeds considered suitable for law enforcement work include the Belgian Malinois, the Labrador Retriever, and the American Staffordshire Terrier (commonly referred to as the pit bull). Historically, breeders supplied purebred dogs to law enforcement agencies, who trained them to perform a myriad of tasks such as drug and bomb detection, civil patrol, cadaver detection, and search and rescue. And while most law enforcement agencies still rely on breeders to supply dogs suitable for law enforcement work, many agencies are now finding that great dogs can be found in local shelters. Broadway Barks found two amazing law enforcement K-9s who were rescued from shelters and trained as working dogs that “protect and serve.” Here are their stories.
Officer TJ Sadler and Jasmine – Greensboro Police Department
In 2010, a one-year-old German Shepherd was abandoned in her backyard after her family moved away and heartlessly left her behind. She was hungry and alone. Neighbors fed the dog until they realized no one was coming back for her; then they called the authorities. The abandoned dog was surrendered to Red Dog Farm, a local animal rescue in Greensboro, North Carolina. While at Red Dog Farm, the abandoned shepherd quickly demonstrated a strong urge to hunt, so she was entered into a ten-week K-9 training program at Shiloh K-9 Dog Training Services. The folks at Shiloh trained the young shepherd to hunt for narcotics and, as it turned out, she was really good at it.
Officer TJ Sadler works in the Traffic Safety Unit of the Special Operations Division at the Greensboro Police Department in Greensboro, North Carolina. Officer Sadler had worked as a K-9 handler for five years when, in 2010, his K-9 partner passed away. Although he was deeply saddened, Officer Sadler began the search for another partner to help him serve the people of Greensboro. News of the abandoned German Shepherd trained in narcotics detection quickly found its way to Officer Sadler. Red Dog Farm was contacted, and they donated the trained shepherd to the Greensboro Police Department. Officer Sadler met the young dog, now known as “Jasmine,” and the two have been working together ever since. Officer Sadler and Jasmine work as a team, searching vehicles detained at traffic stops for illegal narcotics. So far, the pair has confiscated narcotics such as marijuana and cocaine, as well as drug-related money, during multiple traffic stops around Greensboro.
Jasmine went through a rough time after being abandoned by her family, but now she is thriving while serving her community. She lives on five acres of land with Officer Sadler, his wife, and two Labrador siblings. On Tuesdays, the K-9 officers of the Greensboro Police Department get together and participate in training refreshers. During these sessions, Jasmine and the other drug-sniffing dogs practice locating narcotics in vehicles. Drugs are planted in random vehicles, and the dogs have to sniff them out. When Jasmine gets it right she gets her most coveted prize—a tennis ball.
Jasmine is still young and has many working years ahead. But, when the time comes, she has a pretty good retirement plan in place. When Jasmine retires from service with the Greensboro Police Department she will live at home with Officer Sadler and the family she has known for the last several years. Jasmine will also get a lifetime of free, high-quality veterinary care provided by Dr. James Lofgren, a local veterinarian who donates his services to retired police dogs. And Jasmine deserves it all for working hard to serve the community of Greensboro.
Officer Billy Wells and Shaka – Milwaukie Police Department
In a story heard all too often, a young, healthy American Staffordshire Terrier in a New York City shelter was scheduled for euthanasia due to overcrowding. A pit bull advocate rescued the dog and quickly noticed that she had a strong drive to detect odors. Believing the young pit bull, now named “Shaka,” had the skills necessary to become a drug detection dog, she was enrolled in the Washington State Patrol K-9 Drug Detection Academy where she passed her exams with flying colors.
Shaka worked with the Washougal Police Department for a few years and developed a solid reputation as a successful drug detection canine. However, when budget cuts forced Washougal to eliminate its K-9 program, Officer Billy Wells of the Milwaukie Police Department in Milwaukie, Oregon, stepped in and adopted Shaka. The two trained together and quickly became inseparable partners.
Like Jasmine, Shaka is trained to detect narcotics. When she discovers the scent of drugs, she alerts Officer Wells by sitting and looking at the object containing the scent. Her reward for a successful detection is her favorite toy, a rubber piece of hydraulic hose that she loves to chase or use for a game of tug-of-war. Officer Wells and Shaka train together for four hours a week to keep in shape. On the streets, Shaka assists Officer Wells during search warrants, at traffic stops, and when a suspicious package is found. In their first year together, Officer Wells and Shaka recovered one pound of methamphetamine, one pound of heroine, one half pound of marijuana, and about $80,000. Click here for a video clip of Shaka in action.
After one minute with Shaka, she quickly dispels the biases that some people have about her breed. She is described as a happy-go-lucky dog who loves attention from anyone willing to pet her. Shaka lives with Officer Wells, but because her work requires her to jump up on furniture and kitchen counters in search of drugs, she does not live inside the main house. Instead, she has her own house in the backyard. But this is no ordinary doghouse. Shaka’s condo cost roughly $17,000 to build and includes heating and air-conditioning and even a bath station. After a busy day at work, Shaka enjoys her private space where she can rest in luxury before heading back to work to serve the people of Milwaukie.
Extraordinary K-9 Sniffers in Shelters
Dogs can smell more than 1,000 times better than humans. We humans have roughly 5 million scent glands, but dogs have anywhere between 125 and 300 million, depending on the breed! Both Jasmine and Shaka are trained to detect a variety of illegal drugs. When drug-sniffing dogs like Jasmine and Shaka find an odor they are trained to detect, they notify their handlers by sitting and staring at the object from which the scent originates. This is referred to as a “passive alert.” Specific breeds, such as Beagles, German Shepherds, and Bloodhounds, are especially gifted when it comes to scent detection, but many mixed-breed dogs have demonstrated this talent as well. And countless numbers of these gifted mixed-breed and purebred dogs are living in animal shelters and rescues throughout the US.
Most law enforcement agencies recognize the enormous contribution dogs make to their forces, and the use of K-9 teams is increasing. Many agencies still rely on breeders to supply suitable working dogs, but more agencies are looking to shelters first. As more stories like the ones about Jasmine and Shaka emerge, hopefully more law enforcement agencies will look to their local shelters to find their K-9 talent. Kudos to the Greensboro and Milwaukie Police Departments and to Officers Sadler and Wells, who recognized that dogs in shelters are not damaged goods, but are victims of negative human behavior. Jasmine and Shaka prove that shelters house dedicated and talented animals, and when given the chance they are eager to use their skills to protect and serve their communities.
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