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Tag: marijuana

Why a real dog should have played McGruff

mcgruff2

A Houston man who once portrayed McGruff the Crime Dog has been sentenced to more than 16 years in prison on drugs and weapons charges.

John R. Morales was sentenced to federal prison last week for charges related to his 2011 arrest.

Police who raided Morales’ residence then seized 1,000 marijuana plants and 9,000 rounds of ammunition for 27 weapons — including a shotgun, pistols, rifles, and a military grenade launcher, according to court documents obtained by NBC.

What does all this prove? If you want mascot who is pure, ethical and beyond reproach, choose a real dog. They are far less likely to get arrested, far less likely to cause a scandal, and far less likely to cave in to temptation, unless they are of the bacon variety.

This wasn’t the first time the choice of a human to play McGruff has come back to bite law enforcement. There was an incident in Phoenix in 1998 when a prison trusty police assigned to play the role removed his head and was recognized by parents in the audience as a convicted child molester.

Morales wore the McGruff costume for the Harris County Sheriff’s Association in the late 1990s. Fox News reported.

mcgruffThe human-like, trench coat-wearing dog was created by the global advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi through the Ad Council for the National Crime Prevention Council to increase crime awareness among children.

He appeared on television in animated form, and in public appearances he was portrayed by actors wearing the giant dog head and costume.

He urged young people to “take a bite out of crime.”

Morales, after his McGruff gig, was stopped in 2011 by police in Galveston for speeding, and marijuana was detected in his car trunk. Authorities said that, in addition to marijuana plants, they found a clipboard with diagrams of two indoor pot farms in his car.

That led officers to a stash of 1,000 marijuana plants and the weapons.

And who was it that first detected the marijuana in the car? A real police dog.

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.

Video of police shooting dog prompts outrage

The fatal shooting of a dog during a February SWAT team raid in Columbia, Missouri, has prompted the police department to change its policies, Chief Ken Burton said at a news conference Thursday.

You might guess he was talking about the department’s dog-shooting policy, which, judging from this video, seems to be shoot first, shoot some more, and ask questions later.

But no. After killing a family’s pit bull, wounding their Welsh corgi, and terrorizing the suspect’s wife and child — in a bust that netted a mere palmful of marijuana — the police department has revamped department policy so that there won’t be lags between the time they obtain a search warrant and the time they, stormtrooper style, bust into homes.

Burton said the department moved slowly in Whitworth’s case because the SWAT team is made up of part-time members who hold other jobs within the department.

The fact that officer killed one of the suspect’s dogs, intentionally, and wounded another, accidentally — while the incident is still being investigated internally — seems, to him, of little import.

Burton said the pit bull was acting aggressively, and he defended the actions of the officers involved, according to The Missourian.

The suspect, Jonathan Whitworth, pleaded guilty on April 20 to a misdemeanor charge of unlawful use of drug paraphernalia and was fined $300.

Subsequently, the police video was released and found its way onto YouTube, prompting a surge of protests from animal activists.

“We’re getting death threats from literally all over the world,” Burton said.

Gun charges dropped in dog burning case

Gun and drug charges against the Baltimore twins accused of setting a dog on fire were dropped this week.

The two still face animal cruelty and mutilation charges in a separate case accusing them of setting fire to a pit bull puppy, named Phoenix after her rescue.

Police searching the twins’ home during the animal cruelty investigation said they found a gun and some marijuana, leading to drugs and weapons charges against twin brothers Tremayne and Travers Johnson and their father.

Because of difficulties proving who owned the gun, prosecutors decided to drop all those charges and focus on the animal cruelty case, WJZ reported.

Phoenix was found on fire by a city police officer, who extinguished the flames with her jacket. The dog survived several days, but had to be euthanized.

The animal cruelty trial for the twins is scheduled for June.

Dogfighting suspect worked as groomer

carusoOne of the three suspects arrested last week in what Baltimore County police describe as a dogfighting operation has a long record — of fighting for dogs.

Nicole Marie Caruso,  a dog groomer at Sobo Dog Daycare & Spa in South Baltimore, is praised by her current and former bosses and friends as an animal rights activist and dog rescuer.

Police say she and the two other occupants of the home they raided in North Point sold marijuana, fought with neighborhood rivals and ran a dogfighting ring centered around their pit bulls – Dutch, Whezzy, Lucia, Bruno, Gotti and Kane.

Police said they found blood smeared on walls, weights, chains, collars, a treadmill, steroids, veterinary supplies  and three aggressive pit bulls that showed signs of injuries.

Police charging documents portray Caruso’s role as that of a nurse treating injured patients – whether the dogs were forced to fight for bets or simply fought one another for fun, the Baltimore Sun reported.

Caruso worked most recently at the SoBo Dog Day Care, which opened last year in Locust Point. Prior to that, she spent two years as a veterinarian technician at Animal Medical Clinic on York Road in Timonium.

Her bosses at both places described her to Sun reporter Peter Hermann as a dog lover who rescued strays, patched wounds, and wrote articles on animal health for websites.

“It’s a huge shame, very heartbreaking,” said Nancy Jolle, the office manager of Animal Medical Clinic. “We’re kind of in shock. We don’t know what to think until they sort out the facts,” Jolle said.

At the SoBo Dog Day Care, owner Bill Link said customers raved about her work. “She has a fantastic following,” Link said. “I just can’t believe she did what they say she did because she’s such an advocate.”

Link reiterated what several of Caruso’s neighbors have said in her support – that she bought the treadmill for $30 on Craigslist to lose weight, not to train her dogs to fight.

Caruso has been released on $125,000 bail.

Iditadrug: Of Mackey, mushing and marijuana

mackeyThree-time Iditarod champion Lance Mackey may have to mush without marijuana in next year’s race.

Iditarod Trail Committee officials have announced plans to test mushers for drugs and alcohol in March. Officials haven’t decided who will get tested, or when, where and how it will be done. “It might be random. It might be a group of mushers at a specific checkpoint,” said Stan Hooley, executive director of the committee.

Alaska law allows for personal possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, provided the use occurs at home. In addition, Mackey, as a throat cancer survivor, has a medical marijuana card that entitles him to use the drug legally for medical purposes.

Mackey admits marijuana has helped him stay awake and focused through the 1,100-mile race, but he insists it doesn’t give him an edge.

“It isn’t the reason I’ve won three years in a row,” Mackey told the Anchorage Daily News. ”I think it’s a little bit ridiculous,” he said of the new policy. ”It is a dog race, not a human race. It doesn’t affect the outcome of the race.”

While Iditarod dogs have long been tested for a lengthy list of prohibited substances, the humans they are pulling — despite the Iditarod having had an informal drug and alcohol policy since 1984 — never have.

Mackey doesn’t blame the Iditarod board for creating the new policy, but he contends he is being targeted by other mushers jealous of his three straight Iditarod titles.

Despite his medical marijuana clearance, Mackey said he will not pursue a therapeutic use exemption; instead, he’ll just abstain for a while.

“I’m going to pee in their little cup,” he said. “And laugh in their face.”

A likely story: Pot was for dog, suspect says

Police found two large marijuana plants growing in an Illinois back yard, but the man of the house explained he was only growing the plants to train his dog to detect the substance.

Officers, acting on a tip, showed up at the 31-year-old man’s home in Joliet and saw a marijuana plant growing behind a shed, according to a police report.  A woman who lives at the residence, the report said, allowed officers to enter the back yard.

Once inside, a police sergeant performed a field test on the plant that revealed it was cannabis. The officers say they then found a second plant growing in the yard, and a third one that was dead and lying on the ground.

When the officers called the woman’s husband on his mobile phone to inquire about the pot plants, he told them he had “a controlled substance license and was growing the cannabis to train his dog.”

Reached Sunday by the Herald News, the man initially denied having such a license. He did say he was training his dog to detect drugs, but then quickly added that he could not discuss the matter.

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