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Tag: k9

Last month’s feel-good story takes bad turn

Luke the K9 solo (Courtesy of Joel Fields)

A suburban police officer who made national headlines for rescuing a doomed shelter dog and training him for police work has been fired from his job — and his whole story is now being questioned.

On top of that, the Bel-Ridge Police Department, outside St. Louis, is asking that officer Joel Fields return the dog that taxpayers, at least in part, paid to have trained, at least in part, as a police K9.

The total truth about the story is still unraveling, but the untruths unearthed so far indicate the heartwarming account Fields gave the news media wasn’t entirely accurate — including the claim that the dog, named Luke, came from a shelter and was scheduled to be euthanized.

As a result, and as has happened before, all across the Internet, thousands of hearts were falsely warmed.

As usual, we can blame lazy news media, and even lazier bloggers, for the misinformation — as well as the officer whose account of saving the dog from death’s doorstep was initially accepted on its face as truthful.

fieldsFields was praised by PEOPLE and pictured as a savior by numerous dog websites after the story broke in April.

(Fortunately, ohmidog! wasn’t one of them. We’d like to say it’s because it didn’t pass our special sniff test, or get approved by our crack team of fact checkers, but it was probably more dumb luck.)

Still, there were clues — like how hard Fields seemed to be seeking publicity, the professionally made photos he supplied of him and Luke, and the boasting about all the drug busts Luke nearly immediately made as a rookie on the job.

“He made seven drug busts in less than a month and a half of working the road with me,” Fields told Fox2 News.

How true that is — as well as the rest of the story Fields gave about the retriever — are now under suspicion.

News4 in St. Louis is now reporting that Brad Croft, the owner of Universal K9, the company that helped train Luke, is saying the account Fields gave the news media was mostly lies.

“I was a little upset, because Joel was told from the day I handed him the leash of the dog that this was not a shelter dog,” said Croft.

Croft told News4 he suspects Fields was lying about the dog’s background in an effort to gain fame and “get people to back him and give him money.”

Officials are also now investigating whether Luke was fully trained and certified as a police dog.

City prosecutor Sam Alton says Fields initially told them the dog was certified as a K9, but he says they have learned that is not true. That fact could complicate any criminal court cases Luke played a role in.

Alton says Fields is now refusing to give up the dog, whose training was funded at least in part by taxpayers.

“We would like to see the taxpayers not lose money, we would like the dog to live a happy and productive life and we would like to see the dog in service as it was meant to be,” Alton said.

“Everything legally from our point of view shows that the dog belongs to the city of Bel-Ridge,” he added. “It’s unfortunate for the city, it’s unfortunate for the residents, it’s unfortunate for the dog and it’s unfortunate for him (Fields).”

Fields told News4 over the phone this week that he quit and wasn’t fired, and wouldn’t comment anymore until talking to his attorney.

KMOV.com

Heat has killed 11 police dogs this summer

wix

If it seems you’ve seen a lot of stories about police dogs dying of heat exhaustion this summer, it’s because you have.

Since the last week of May, 11 police dogs have died from the heat, and nine of those cases stemmed from dogs left in hot police cars, according to the Weather Channel.

The 11 deaths this summer compare with four nationwide in 2014 and three in 2013, according to records kept by the Officer Down Memorial Page.

The latest death came last week in Kohler, Wisconsin, when a police dog named Wix (pictured above) died in a squad car as his handler worked at a PGA Championship event.

Wix died as the result of heat exhaustion after the air conditioning unit in the vehicle malfunctioned, and the heat alarm in the vehicle failed to go off.

Wix, a Belgian malinois, was on special assignment with his handler at the Whistling Straights golf course. His handler found him unresponsive in the vehicle when he went to check on him.

Several other police dog deaths this summer have been blamed on faulty air conditioners.

In Oklahoma, a Muldrow Police Department dog named Zeke died from heat exhaustion after the air conditioner in his handler’s patrol car malfunctioned.

His handler was inside the police station working on a case and left Zeke in the car for at least an hour. At some point the air conditioner malfunctioned and began blowing only hot air. His handler returned to the car to find him dead.

Zeke had served with the Muldrow Police Department for four years.

Two more police dogs died in the same incident in Hialeah, Florida; and in Jim Wells County, Texas, deputy Latham Roldan was fired from the department after the K-9 he left in his squad car died from the heat.

(Photo:Brown County Sheriff’s Department Facebook page)

Police dog fired after biting doughnut man

renzo

A police dog in Florida has been fired after he escaped from his handler and bit a Dunkin Donuts employee in the store’s parking lot.

According to Margate police, Coconut Creek Officer Carl DiBlasi had gone to the doughnut shop with his police dog Renzo to meet Coconut Creek Police Sgt. Brandi Delvecchio.

Renzo lunged at the sergeant when she tried to pet him through a half open patrol car window, The dog then jumped from the vehicle, ran across the parking lot and attacked a shop employee as he reached into his car for an apron, according to the Sun Sentinel.

The incident occurred Feb. 11 in the parking lot of the Dunkin’ Donuts in Margate.

Renzo, a 4-year-old Belgian Malinois, had been with the department about a year and a half, and already had one strike against him: In November, he bit a Coconut Creek officer while tracking a suspect.

Coconut Creek Police Chief Michael J. Mann said the dog is now off the force.

“I have made the decision to retire K9 Renzo,” he said. Renzo will go live with DiBlasi.

According to Margate police, Officer DiBlasi was in the car when Renzo lunged at the sergeant and jumped out the window. DiBlasi grabbed hold of the dog’s harness, but couldn’t hang on. The dog ignored his commands to stop and charged toward doughnut shop employee Robert Doherty, 37, Coral Springs, who saw him coming and jumped into his car.

Renzo bit his leg before he could close the door. Doherty suffered four bites, according to Margate police, who said they had to “pry” Renzo from his victim.

(Photo: Renzo, from Coconut Creek Police Department)

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.