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.
Posted by John Woestendiek June 12th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: alert, cocaine, colorado, court, criminal justice, detect, detection, dog, dogs, drug-sniffing, drugs, heroin, job, K-9, k9, lakewood, law, law enforcement, marijuana, marijuana laws, mission, newspapers, police, police dogs, problems, prosecutors, purpose, reporters, searches, skills, sniffing, tacoma, useless, washington, working dogs
Here’s an ending almost too happy to be believed.
Three years ago, a Washington man surrendered his family dog, a five-year-old shepherd mix named Haley, to the Humane Society for Tacoma and Pierce County.
An unspecified family crisis forced the family to give up the dog, the humane society said.
Though gone, she was not forgotten. The father still kept photos of the dog on his iphone, and his daughter, now 12, was, still missing and talking about the dog they had said goodbye to years earlier.
This week, with their crisis averted and the family having decided to get another dog, the father dropped by the Tacoma Humane Society to look at potential adoptees. Though it’s not uncommon for shelter dogs to start jumping and yapping when people come by, one dog went particularly crazy when the father approached, staff members say.
Taking a closer look, the father was shocked to see that the dog making all the noise was — you guessed it — Haley!
As it turns out, Haley, after being surrendered by the family, was adopted in 2007, but the family that adopted her the second time had so much trouble with her continually running away they’d returned her, just a few days ago.
Posted by John Woestendiek March 3rd, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: adopt, adoption, animals, bond, dog, dogs, family, goodbye, haley, happy ending, hello, humane society, mix, mutt, pets, pierce county, rescue, return, returned, reunion, shelters, shepherd, surrender, tacoma
The first of the Michael Vick dogs taken in by Best Friends Animal Society — one of those that were thought to be too corrupted to ever make pets — has apparently found a home, and a soulmate.
Halle (that’s her on the right) was one of the 22 Vick dogs that went to Best Friends — sent there because they were considered the most hardcore, most traumatized, least likely to be rehabilitated. At Best Friends, the reasoning went, those who couldn’t be socialized would be able live out their lives at the animal sanctuary in Kanab, Utah. The less severe cases went to other rescue organizations, and many have gone on to get adopted as pets, and even become therapy dogs.
Halle, though, is the first of the Best Friends batch to make the transition.
While the adoption isn’t official yet — the so-called Vicktory dogs, under court requirements, must complete a six-month foster period — Halle has moved into a home with a new caretaker, identified as Traci, and Best Friends reports that it looks as if the arrangement might be a forever one.
Posted by John Woestendiek February 14th, 2009 under Muttsblog.
Tags: adopt, adopted, animal sancturary, best friends, dog, dogfighting, dogs, foster, foster care, halle, home, lucas, michael vick, pit bulls, rehabilitation, rescue, shelter, tacoma, traci, vick dogs, vicktory dogs