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NC Highway Patrol to revamp K-9 unit

North Carolina’s State Highway Patrol said Monday that it will use dogs solely to sniff out narcotics, and avoid the kind of rough training tactics – swinging, suspending and kicking of patrol dogs — that caused a national furor when one trooper’s treatment of his dog showed up on Youtube.

“This is rebuilding the unit from the ground up,” said Capt. Everett Clendenin, a patrol spokesman.

The patrol suspended the canine unit in April after several troopers testified in a personnel hearing that the dogs had been subjected to disciplinary tactics such as swinging them around by their leads, suspending them until they nearly passed out, shocking them with stun guns and throwing plastic bottles filled with pebbles at them.

The troopers defended Sgt. Charles L. Jones, who was fired last year for kicking his police dog, Ricoh, several times after suspending him so that his hind legs barely touched the ground.

The Raleigh News and Observer reports that the patrol plans to acquire six Labrador retrievers, which are known for being passive, obedient dogs with good noses for narcotics. The dogs will be paired with newly trained officers who were not part of the previous canine unit. The new unit should be up and running by mid 2009.

The patrol said that the new program will not use dogs to track down suspects or defend their handlers. As a result, the patrol does not need aggressive dogs such as Belgian Malinois or German shepherds, nor does it need to use strict disciplinary measures so the dogs will obey, Clendenin said.

“Our dogs are going to strictly be sniffing and searching for narcotics,” he said.

He said the unit will adopt the practices of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Canine Program. The new training procedures, Clendenin said, will specifically prohibit punching, kicking, beating and choking of dogs.

“We’re not going to tolerate that kind of behavior and we don’t think it’s going to be a problem again,” Clendenin said.

Hope Hancock, executive director of the SPCA of Wake County, said she supports the changes. She said she wants to make sure the patrol’s training provides no wiggle room for abusive tactics.

“On behalf of the SPCA, I think this is a very good measure towards a much better program,” Hancock said.

Hancock said the Jones case shows that state lawmakers need to redefine animal abuse statutes. A state administrative law judge and the State Personnel Commission have found that Jones should be reinstated, in part because the evidence indicated he was doing as he was taught. The patrol has appealed those decisions.

“There’s a loophole that says if you are training a dog, then the cruelty and the mistreatment is defined differently,” Hancock said. “This is the perfect time to look at the statutes to tighten them up.”

Comments

Comment from Anne-n-Spencer
Time December 10, 2008 at 10:28 am

I haven’t understood this from the beginning. How does torturing and beating a dog until it’s cowed into submission develop the qualities needed in a police dog? We did our obedience training with Molly with a man who had retired as a trainer of police dogs. Looking back, I guess the leash corrections were a bit tougher, and we the humans were taught to be a bit more assertive than we might be. But there was never a hint of mistreatment or injury. And I doubt the trainer had ever maltreated a dog in his career. He was all business, but he wasn’t pathological. This North Carolina approach is some kind of weirdness that has sneaked in out of the weeds.

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