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Tag: k9

One very brave piece of “property”

mickNormally, we would call Mick, a Portland, Oregon, police dog killed in the line of duty this week, a hero.

Or maybe even a life-saver, which is how his partner, Officer Jeff Dorn, referred to him while recuperating in a hospital  from two gunshot wounds fired by the same burglary suspect who fatally gunned down Mick.

But according, at least, to an Oregon Court of Appeals decision — issued the very same day Mick died while trying to apprehend the fleeing, gun-firing suspect – Mick, being a dog, was merely “property.”

The court ruling wasn’t about Mick — instead it stemmed from an abuse case — but the timing and juxtaposition of the two stories serve to make a point that society, and lawmakers, and law enforcers, and courts, ought to start heeding.

Dogs aren’t toasters.

Mick joined the Portland Police Bureau K-9 Unit in March. After only a few days on the job, police, he captured three suspects within a 10-hour period. On Wednesday, he was with Dorn, chasing down a fleeing burglary suspect, when he was shot.

“Officer Dorn would like the community to know that ‘Mick saved my life,’ ” Portland police Sgt. Pete Simpson said in a press release.

“The dog was doing its job. He was out there protecting our community, and it’s tragic that we lost the dog,” said Portland Police Chief Mike Reese.

dornandmickAfter Mick’s body was recovered, a procession of police cars followed him to a veterinarian’s office, according to a report in Wednesday’s Oregonian, but it was too late.

On the same day Mick died, the Oregon Court of Appeals issued a ruling declaring — in line with what all the law books say — that dogs are “property.”

As such, the three-judge panel ruled, dogs can’t be seized and examined without a warrant, even if the purpose is to save a dog’s life.

The legal view of dogs as — above all else — property both degrades and endangers man’s best friend, and can make it difficult for animal-cruelty investigators to provide help to beaten, starved or neglected pets.

Changing that age-old view would require throwing away a lot of law books, and it would require judges to finally start showing half the backbone Mick did.

It’s time to make a legal distinction between inanimate ”property” that has no soul, and “property” (if we must call them that) that does have a soul.

The Court of Appeals Wednesday did the opposite, throwing out the conviction of a 28-year-old woman who, based on evidence from a veterinarian who tested and treated the animal without a warrant, was found guilty of starving her dog, the Oregonian reported.

After an informant told the Oregon Humane Society that Amanda L. Newcomb was beating her dog and failing to properly feed it, an animal-cruelty investigator went to Newcomb’s apartment in December 2010 and saw the dog in the yard “in a near emaciated condition.”

Newcomb told the investigator she was out of dog food and that she was going to get some more, but the investigator  determined the dog likely needed medical care and brought the dog to a Humane Society vet for an examination.

That exam, according to the appeals court ruling, constituted unreasonable search and seizure of property — namely, Newcomb’s dog.

While the investigator had probable cause to seize the dog without a warrant, the court said, the “search” — i.e. medical exam — of the dog violated Newcomb’s privacy rights because the authorities hadn’t obtained a warrant.

The ruling effectively overturns her conviction on charges of second-degree animal neglect, and the original judge’s orders for her to serve one year of probation and not possess animals for five years.

It could also serve to hamper animal cruelty investigations across the state.

Maybe worst of all, it confirms the foolish concept that dogs — despite their heroics, despite their loyalty, despite their having character traits that we humans can only envy — are, first and foremost, property, a wrongful designation that legally, if not in reality, seems to trump all else.

Police dog dies when left in patrol car

spartacusA 3-year-old police dog in Woodstock, Georgia, died this week from heat stroke after being left in his handler’s patrol car.

Spartacus, a Belgian Malinois trained in narcotics detection and tracking, was found dead Monday night inside the car, which was parked outside his handler’s home.

The unidentified officer, a 9-year veteran of the department, was placed on paid leave, a police spokeswoman told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The spokeswoman said Spartacus was the second K-9 assigned to the officer. The first, after retiring, became his family pet and still lives with him.

In addition to an internal investigation, the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office, which responded to the officer’s home Monday night, is investigating the dog’s death.

A necropsy determined the cause of death was heat stroke.

What do marijuana-sniffing dogs and newspaper reporters have in common?

phelan

What’s a working dog to do? You learn your trade, hone your skills, toil away, only to find out that the world around you has evolved to a point where those skills are no longer much appreciated.

It’s why you can’t find a blacksmith too easily nowadays. It’s what happened to the elevator operator, the milkman, and, at least from my biased and disgruntled point of view, the newspaper reporter.

Such too was the case with Phelan, a marijuana-detecting Labrador retriever in the employ of the police department in Lakewood, Colorado.

With the passage by Colorado voters of Initiative 502 — legalizing the recreational use of small amounts of marijuana — the skill Phelan was best known for is no longer much in demand there.

In fact, his  biggest asset has become a liability, the News Tribune reports.

Phelan was handed his pink slip this week and sold to the state Department of Corrections, where, in his new job, his inability to distinguish between marijuana and other drugs won’t be a problem — all drugs being illegal behind bars.

The same story is playing out in Washington state,  where voters also legalized marijuana use, and where police departments are figuring out whether to cease training new dogs in marijuana detection, put their existing dogs through ”pot desensitization” training or just retire them and send them out to pasture, according to the Associated Press.

Take it from me, pasture sucks. Dogs and people, I think, prefer having a mission.

But Phelan’s mission, at least in the two states where moderate amounts of marijuana are now permitted, no longer much needs to be accomplished. Worse yet, alerting to small amounts of marijuana could mess up prosecutions in cases involving other, still illegal, drugs.

Say Phelan alerted to drugs in the trunk of a car. Phelan’s inability to distinguish between heroin and marijuana — or at least specify to his handler to which he is alerting — means any subsequent search by officers could have been based on Phelan detecting an entirely legal drug, in an entirely legal amount.

That means the “probable cause” the search was based on might not have really existed, and that means any evidence of illegal drugs subsequently found in the search would likely be tossed out.

Thus Phelan, unless he were to be retrained to drop marijuana-detecting from his repertoire — not easily accomplished — has ended up going from cutting edge law enforcement tool to an old school has been.

Drug detecting dogs — traditionally trained to alert to the smell of marijuana, heroin, crack cocaine, methamphetamine and cocaine –  can’t specify what they’re smelling, much less the quantity it might be in.

In Washington, the new law decriminalized possession of up to an ounce of the drug for individuals over 21, and barred the growth and distribution of marijuana outside the state-approved system.

Dog trainer Fred Helfers, of the Pacific Northwest Detection Dog Association, said abandoning pot training is a “knee-jerk” reaction: “What about trafficking? What about people who have more than an ounce?” Still, he’s helping departments who want to put their dogs through ”extinction training” to change what substances dogs alert to. That takes about 30 days, followed by a prolonged period of reinforcement.

The Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission removed detecting marijuana from its canine team certification standards this year, and no longer requires dogs be trained to detect it, but some others say, given large amounts of pot are still illegal, it can still be a useful skill for a dog to have.

In Pierce County, prosecutor Mark Lindquist believes new dogs are the answer — dogs trained in sniffing out the other drugs, but not marijuana. He’s not convinced dogs can be re-trained. “We’ll need new dogs to alert on substances that are illegal,” he told the Associated Press.

Other police departments, like Tacoma’s, aren’t making any changes.

“The dog doesn’t make the arrest, the officer does,” said spokesperson Loretta Cool. “A canine alert is just one piece of evidence an officer considers when determining whether a crime has been committed.”

Phelan was one of two drug-sniffing dogs on the police force in Lakewood, Colorado. He’ll be replaced by Kira, a Belgian Malinois  who was trained not to alert when she smells marijuana. Duke, a Labrador retriever mix with the old-school training, will remain on the force for now.

Phelan, though, will be moving on, and I sympathize with the crime-fighting Lab.

His new gig in the slammer is clearly a step down the career ladder — not unlike going from being a newspaper reporter detecting corruption and injustice to an unpaid blogger who mostly (but not entirely) regurgitates material already written.

And, for Phelan, there’s the added insult of being sold for the lowly sum of one dollar.

Surely — old school as his talents may be – he was worth more than that.

Famed NYPD bloodhound dies in his sleep

A bloodhound from North Carolina who went on to find fame in the New York City Police Department died this weekend at age 10.

Scooby, whose all-knowing nose played a key role in tracking down a cop killer during an interstate manhunt, passed away in his sleep about 9 a.m. Saturday, police said. He’d been suffering from an undisclosed illness, according to the New York Daily News.

The bloodhound was most noted for assisting in the 2007 apprehension of two suspects who had fled the city after gunning down two officers who had pulled them over in Brooklyn for driving a stolen BMW.

Officer Russel Timoshenko, 23, was shot in the face and died a few days later. Officer Herman Yan, his partner and now a detective, was wounded but survived.

The two suspects, Dexter Bostic and Robert Ellis, managed to escape the city and make it as far as the Poconos in eastern Pennsylvania, where they hid out in the woods.

Scooby, joined by six other police dogs and about 300 police officers from several states, launched a manhunt in the woods, based on reports of the two suspects having been seen in a nearby rest area.

Scooby took part in the search that night, and is credited with — when the search resumed the next morning — tracking down Ellis, who was found resting against a tree. Bostic was later apprehended as well.

Bostic was convicted in December 2008 of murder and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Ellis was convicted only of weapons possession, according to the New York Post, and was sentenced to 15 years.

Police department bids farewell to Cheko

Police in Thomasville, North Carolina, paid their tribute to one of their canine partners Thursday – Cheko, a 9-year-old drug-sniffing dog who died after being poisoned.

About 150 people gathered for a memorial service at the Thomasville Funeral Home.

Police Chief Jeffrey Insley said before the service that an autopsy determined that Cheko — a drug-detecting dog who also was trained as a tracker — had been poisoned, according to the Winston-Salem Journal. He was one of four dogs in the K-9 unit.

Cheko died in March, just a week before he was scheduled to retire, at the Randolph County home of his handler, Thomasville Police Sgt. John Elgin. Elgin found Cheko dead inside his kennel, about two days after the dog started acting sluggish.

The Randolph County Sheriff’s Department is investigating how the dog ingested the poison. Elgin said additional tests will be conducted to determine what chemicals or poisons killed Cheko.

“It could have been an act of retaliation from a past arrest, but we are not going to point any fingers until we complete our investigation,” he said.

“Any new dog who takes Cheko’s place will have big paws to fill,” Insley said at the service.

Among those paying tribute to Cheko was  Thomasville Mayor Joe Bennett told the audience, Cheko had gone to heaven. “I doubt there are drugs there, but he is looking for something and having fun.”

Trial opens in Miami police dog’s death

The trial began yesterday for a former Miami-Dade police officer charged with killing a K-9 with a series of kicks.

Duke, a Belgian Malinois, died in 2006 after collapsing during a training exercise with handler Sgt. Allen Cockfield, according to the Miami Herald.

Cockfield is charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty and a felony count of killing a police dog. If convicted, he faces possible prison time and the loss of his state police certification. Cockfield contends any blows he might have administered were in self defense.

“He was simply trying to save himself,” defense attorney Douglas Hartman said.

Authorities arrested Cockfield, 55, in 2007 after a one-year investigation by Miami-Dades Police Department’s internal affairs unit. Cockfield spent more than two decades as a canine handler with the department, which has since fired him.

Miami-Dade prosecutor Isis Perez told jurors yesterday that Duke was not obeying commands during a training exercise, prompting Cockfield to lift the dog up by its leash and kick it three to five times.

“He stiffened his hind legs, shaking as he was going into some sort of seizure, and a few seconds later he became numb, and that was it,” a fellow police officer who witnessed the incident testified.

Cockfield’s attorney disputed that account, saying the dog was behaving aggressively and his client was trying to protect himself.

Could cadaver dogs be replaced by vultures?

Skilled as dogs are at finding dead bodies, police in Germany think they’ve found an animal even more adept at the task.

Police in Walsrode, Germany, say they have trained a vulture named Sherlock to lead them to cadavers.

By placing a GPS device on his leg, they can track him and respond — I’d hope before he’s eaten too much of the evidence.

“If it works, it could save time because the birds can cover much more area than sniffer dogs or humans,” officer Rainer Herrmann told the Daily Mail.

The turkey vulture, a natural scavenger, feeds almost exclusively on carrion, finding its meals through keen vision and a sense of smell that allows it to detect the gasses produced during the decay of dead animals from as high as 3,000 feet in the air.

“‘It was a colleague of mine who got the idea from watching a nature programme,”  Herrmann said. ”

Sherlock can even find remains in woodland or in thick undergrowth. Unlike sniffer dogs, who need regular breaks, Sherlock doesn’t seem to get tired and can cover a far larger area.

Sherlock is being trained at Walsrode, the largest bird park in the world with 650 different species.

Trainers hope to assemble a squadron of crimefighting vultures, but — given that the vultures aren’t native to the area, would have to be raised from chicks to be tame, and require lots of training — it will be a while before they are called to duty.

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