The Best Kind Of Police Dog Comes From A Shelter
When you think of a police dog, the first image that probably springs to mind is old reliable:
The trusty German shepherd.
Sturdy, smart and ultra-professional, shepherds have been a mainstay in law enforcement for decades.
For good reason. They're famed for poignant feats of bravery. Like Jethro, a police dog in Canon, Ohio, who lost his life trying to apprehend burglars.
And Sarge, a dog from Edmonton, Canada, whose exploits seemed so much larger than life, he inspired a comic book.
Others, like Diesel, the late Paris police hero, have demonstrated such astounding self-sacrifice that the whole world takes note.
There's one thing, however, that German shepherds can't do as police dogs.
They can't change our perceptions of one breed who badly needs an image makeover: the pit bull.
And by pit bull, we mean that loose and very vague label people have come to use for a wide variety of square-faced dogs - like American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers and mixes of any of these dogs.
It seems that, regardless of how many stories we hear about gentle, loving pit bulls, there are all too many more of them being miscast as a menace.
That's why the world's police departments need more pit bulls. And it looks like they may be getting them. The best part? Many of these dogs are saved from spending their final days in a shelter. That's vital, because pit bulls are overbred in dizzying abundance. As a result, more than 2,000 pit bulls are euthanized in the U.S. every day.
Instead of being bred for the role, pit bulls are promoted from the dark days of shelter life to crime-fighting companions of humans who grow powerfully attached to them.
We don't know if this is a trend. There's no recorded data of how many departments employ pit bulls, but we are seeing some refreshing new faces on patrol across the country.
There's Libby, who joined Montgomery County's narcotics team in Texas back in May.
She's already acquitted herself with admirable distinction, playing a critical role in a local house bust.
In Troy, Michigan, a pit bull named Peaches is also crashing through police dog stereotypes, as part of the local department's official K9 roster. She was saved from a bleak ending at a local shelter.
"It's a program where we're usually rescuing a dog that would normally be euthanized in one of our kill shelters," Lisa Caughlin, owner of K9 Academy, told KCENTV.
Then there's Kiah, a sniffer for the Poughkeepsie Police Department.
"The breed isn't important," dog trainer Brad Croft tells the Associated Press. "It's what's inside of the dog that's important."
Kiah, too, saw her life turn around from shelter dog to police dog.
Perception, of course, works both ways. On one hand, the public gets a glimpse of the universally massive heart that resides in every dog - and gets to see it in a kind of dog often vilified.
Police work tends to bring out the best in a dog.
Then there's the profound effect working with a pit bull may have on her human partners.
Police officers who work alongside dogs are known to have developed more than mere chemistry but a genuine love for their fearless, four-legged partners. So much so that not even retirement could come between them.
In an interview with The Dodo last month, former Jacksonville, Florida, police lieutenant Jim Crosby said that officers need to change the way they perceive and interact with dogs. Especially with those who fall under that vaguely defined label known as pit bulls.
If not, he said, departments face eroding public attitudes around cops who blindly treat dogs as threats. Not only that, but they face more lawsuits. Like the one last month that saw Commerce City, Colorado, ordered to pay $262,500 for the fatal shooting of a pit bull - the highest settlement in U.S. history after a family dog was shot dead.
Crosby, who is now an animal behavior expert, often testifies at civil hearings over dog shootings.
"I have right now nine active civil cases regarding police using deadly force against people's pets," he explains. "In my opinion, the use of force was not justified and did, in fact, violate these people's constitutional rights of not having their property taken without the process of law.
"Instead, the animals were just blasted."
Perhaps that's why pit bulls with a badge carry more than just duty on those broad shoulders. Their greatest contribution to public service might just be changing the way so many of us imagine what it means to know a pit bull.
Odds are, unless you're a police officer, you won't be able to own a pit bull K9. But you can certainly provide a much-needed home to their civilian counterparts - and make them ambassadors of their kind too.