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Tag: working dogs

Pit bull wins national “hero dog” award

elle

Elle, a 5-year-old pit bull who helps children become more confident about reading, has been named the 2103 Hero Dog by the American Humane Association.

But it wasn’t just her listening skills that won her the honor. She also helps teach children about dog safety, and overcoming prejudice and stereotypes – “something a pit bull knows too much about,” the association noted in announcing the award.

The therapy dog and her owner started a reading program called “Tail Wagging Tales”  that helps students at two North Carolina schools — Vaughan Elementary in Macon and Chaloner Middle School in Roanoke Rapids — become stronger readers. Students take turns reading out loud to Elle for 20 minutes.

“She provides confidence for students and a comforting ear,” Leah Brewer, 42, told TODAY.com.

Elle and the other finalists for the American Humane Association award attended a ceremony Saturday at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. It will air as a 90-minute special on the Hallmark Channel on Oct. 30.

After a six-month natonwide search, 141 dogs from across the country were nominated. More than one million Americans cast votes for the eight finalists online. Those results, along with the choices of a panel of celebrity judges and animals activists, were combined to determine the winner.

Among other nominees were Carlos, an explosive detector dog who worked in Iraq and Afghanistan; John D, a rescue dog who uses his scenting capabilities to detect cancer in patients; Cassidy, a three-legged dog who visits rehabilitation centers to comfort children with disabilities; and Lola, a rescued guide dog who connects her deaf owner to the surrounding world.

“Choosing a top dog is difficult because they are all so terrific, but we are proud to announce Elle as the top American Hero Dog for 2013,” said Dr. Robin Ganzert, president and CEO of the American Humane Association.

“As an organization that for years has fought breed-specific legislation (BSL), we are also pleased to honor a breed that has been often been unjustly maligned. We hope that Elle’s story will help to underscore the many tremendously positive qualities of this breed.”

(Photo: American Humane Association)

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.

Guide dog booted from Canadian McDonald’s

The manager of a McDonald’s in Canada kicked a blind woman and her guide dog out of the restaurant, saying dogs weren’t allowed where food is being served.

Renee Brady, who has relied on her six-year-old golden retriever, named Able, to be her eyes for the last five years, said she was taken aback when the manager of the restaurant in Winnepeg told her she had to eat her food outside because of the dog.

Brady said at first she thought the manager didn’t realize Able was a guide dog — but quickly learned she was mistaken.

“…He said ‘I know it’s a guide dog, but you’ll have to leave,’ ” she told the Winnepeg Free Press.

Officials from McDonald’s Canada said they have apologized to Brady.

“Our procedures for assisting customers with special needs were not followed and we have addressed the situation directly with the restaurant staff to ensure this does not happen again,” McDonald’s said in a statement.

But Brady says that’s not enough.

“I’m not looking for an apology — I want more. I want positive action. I want training of management and staff so this doesn’t happen again.”

Brady wrote to McDonald’s, asking the restaurant chain to put stickers on their doors letting people know while pets are not allowed to enter, service dogs are welcome.

Bulletproof vests that give dogs a voice

k9Picture this: A police dog chases a suspect into a dead-end alley and has him cornered against a wall. It’s a standoff. And then the dog says, “Drop your weapon and lay down on the ground.”

It’s a scenario that could come true in the year ahead. A Canadian company plans to start marketing a bulletproof vest for dogs that comes equipped with a wireless camera, speakers and a microphone — allowing the dog’s handler to see what the dog sees and issues commands.

The vest is made by K9 Storm in Winnipeg, Canada, a company that sells $5 million of custom dog armor a year for canines in Army, Navy, Marines, police departments in 13 countries and security firms worldwide.

“This will change the way dogs are managed in emergencies,” Glori Slater, vice president and co-founder of K9 Storm, said of the new vest, called “K9 Storm Intruder.” The vest relays sound and images over a distance of up to 300 yards.

Slater and her husband, Jim, a former dog handler for the Winnipeg Police Department, spent 11 years perfecting the vest, according to CNNMoney.com.

The Slaters say they have dozens of preorders for the Intruder, prices for which start at $20,000.

Portuguese water dogs are not for everybody

With its selection as First Dog triggering the most publicity the Portuguese water dog has had since its introduction into the U.S. in the late 1960s, the Portuguese Water Dog Club has issued a press release urging the public to be cautious before jumping on any trend that might develop.

“While the PWD is a wonderful family pet, we want to use the increased interest in the breed as an opportunity to educate people about it,” said Stu Freeman, President of the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America (PWDCA). “We encourage those who may consider adding a Portuguese Water Dog to their lives to do the proper research to ensure that this breed fits their lifestyle.”

“PWDs are classified as working dogs. That means they enjoy being given jobs to do where they can display their intelligence, strength and stamina. Like all dogs, PWDs need positive training and socialization.”

“The best thing about the breed is its versatility,” said Jean Hassebroek, corresponding secretary of the PWDCA. “PWDs have been full-time sheep herders, R.E.A.D. therapy dogs and we even had a FEMA hero. But, they can also be champion couch potatoes, content to just hang out.”

Because PWDs form a strong bond with their families, they don’t do well when left alone for long periods or when boarded in kennels. PWDs enjoy participating in activities with their family such as youth soccer, baseball and basketball games, picnics, hiking, and especially any outing that involves water.

They do well in homes with children, the club warned, but it’s possible a PWD could mistake a small child for a littermate and play too hard. In general, small children should never be left unsupervised with a dog of any breed.

For more information on Portuguese Water Dogs, visit the PWDCA website.

(Photo: Drawing courtesy of Portuguese Water Dog Club)

Traumatized war dogs sent back to action

Timi came back from the war in with some serious “readjustment issues,” including nightmares characterized by violent kicking — but none were serious enough to prevent him from being returned for another tour of duty in Iraq.

Or at least that’s what his veterinarian said.

Dogs, like human soldiers, can carry the burden of war back home, but the damage isn’t likely to keep them from being sent right back to action. Just like thousands of soldiers, dogs — primarily highly trained German shepherds and Belgian Malinois — are being forced to deploy for two and three tours, according to a Washington Post article.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the Defense Department has increased the number of military dogs — mostly bomb sniffers — from 1,320 to 2,025, and many have served multiple tours.

The Post article doesn’t delve into whether its right or wrong to be returning traumatized canines to duty, but considering the Pentagon has invested $15,000 to train each one, it’s likely the military strives to get its money’s worth.

In a way, they’re too valuable to be discharged. Dogs have saved countless lives by finding bombs, ammunition and hidden weapons, said Master Sgt. Robert Tremmel, manager of the working dogs program at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, where the dogs from different branches of the military are initially trained.

The U.S. War Dogs Association is trying to persuade the Pentagon to create a medal for dogs. Another group is pushing for a military working dog memorial in the Washington area. And the Humane Society, which criticized the Pentagon during the Vietnam War, when many dogs were left behind or euthanized, has credited the military with working to find retirement homes for them.

A Montana memorial to Vietnam War dogs

An American Legion honor guard in Fort Benton, Montana commemorated a little-known group of soldiers on Veterans Day – about 4,000 scout dogs, most of which were abandoned after protecting soldiers in Vietnam.

“In memory of the over 4,000 U.S. military working dogs that served in the Vietnam War,”  the Military Working Dogs Memorial, unveiled Tuesday, reads. “When the war was over, these dogs were left behind in Vietnam, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia.”

The memorial came out of the collaboration of Adjutant Ron Saville, a former dog handler, and George F. Conklin, commander of American Legion Post 26, according to the Great Falls Tribune

The dogs first in Vietnam served as sentries to guard American and South Vietnamese installations, but also served as scouts, guard dogs, trackers, messengers, and munitions and drug detectors. They also sniffed out mines, trip wires, booby traps or tunnels.

Dogs and their handlers are estimated to have saved more than 10,000 lives in Vietnam, including his own, Conklin said. He choked back tears as he read a citation in honor of the military dog, Echo, that saved his life.
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