Universal K9 provided a grant to put K-9 Berry with her new handler. (Photo: Facebook)
The traditional mix of canine breeds used in law enforcement is beginning to see some new variety. Most people envision a police dog as a German shepherd, Belgian malinois, bloodhound, or maybe a Labrador retriever. But some are hoping to change that by introducing mixed-breed shelter dogs that many call "pit bulls."
New York-based Animal Farm Foundation and Texas-based Universal K9 have partnered for about two years to train rescue dogs and donate them to departments across the country, reports the Toledo Blade.
"We train them to do the same work traditionally reserved for purebred dogs," Stacey Coleman, executive director of the foundation, said.
The K-9 Detection Program has placed about 15 to 20 canines, and another class of dogs will graduate soon.
"The reason we do all of it is to change that negative stigma," Mrs. Coleman said. "It's a big deal for our mission."
Universal K9 acquires and trains the rescued dogs, while Animal Farm Foundation sponsors the training for police officers becoming K-9 handlers through the program.
Brad Croft, owner and trainer at Universal K9, used to buy, train, and sell purebred German shepherds for police work. He later changed the business to a nonprofit that rescues, trains, and donates shelter dogs.
"A few years into it, I realized that there were a ton of dogs in shelters that had some of the same capabilities, and there were tons of police departments out there that needed these dogs and couldn't afford them," he said. "It doesn't take a special breed of dog to do this type of work. It's a God-given gift. Either a dog has it or they don't."
Mr. Croft said a dog of any breed can have the high-energy, high-drive personality needed for police work, and those canines often do not fare well in a shelter environment and are difficult to adopt out.
"Those are the dogs that end up getting euthanized because they do not do good in homes," he said. "We're helping so many different things with one stroke by saving dogs, helping law enforcement, and saving taxpayer dollars."
The dogs in the program are dual-trained for detecting narcotics or explosives, and patrol tasks such as tracking people and article searches. But they are not trained in bite work for apprehending suspects.