Instructor: Pitbulls connect Arkansas community and police
FORT SMITH, Ark. (AP) — She may search cars for drugs, but deep down, Hype is just like any other dog — eager to have her tummy rubbed or to play with her squeaky tennis ball.
Hype, a pitbull mix, joined the Barling Police Department’s drug seizure operations in February after she was trained in Texas by Sector K-9, an organization that prepares dogs to search for illegal substances in a law enforcement capacity. According to Sector K-9 Owner Wes Keeling, the impact dogs like Hype have in their communities far exceeds taking drugs off the streets.
“Every community in every police department should be able to at least have an opportunity to get a K-9,” Keeling told the Southwest Times Record. “K-9s are the biggest thing with the connection of the community with the Police Department, because everybody has seen a dog.”
Officer Don Rowe got Hype after attending two weeks of training under Sector K-9 in Texas. Hype is one of more than 50 Sector K-9-trained dogs throughout the country, including at least four in Arkansas. Sector K-9 receives their dogs from Animal Farm, a nonprofit that works with shelter dogs.
Rowe said Hype was initially trained to be a service dog, but that she was too hyper to fill that role. Hype’s trainers instead channeled her energy to respond to a squeaky tennis ball, which is used in drug searches.
Hype’s energy makes her a good police dog, Rowe said. Hype is trained to detect the scents of methamphetamine, marijuana, cocaine, heroin and ecstasy.
“They have some kind of toy that they just cannot live without,” Rowe said of police dogs. “You act like you throw that toy, and they want that toy. She has been trained on the smell and odor of narcotics. What she thinks is, when she finds that smell, that smell gives her her ball, because when I reward her, I throw that ball over her head to where it looks like it’s coming from the vehicle, the wall, wherever. She loves tennis balls.”
Hype was also trained in what Keeling called “police hours” — responding to drug-related calls at all hours.
When she’s not sniffing out drugs, Hype lives with Rowe and his wife.
“When I get home, I don’t matter,” Rowe joked.
Pitbulls or pitbull mixes like Hype are a departure from Belgian malinois and German shepherds, which often come to mind when people think of police dogs. Rowe said pitbulls are a driven breed, which helps during drug searches.
“When I get her out of the vehicle, she knows that vehicle in front of me is where she has to go, and she will drag you across the concrete,” he said.
Keeling spoke well of pitbulls outside of police work as well.
“It’s not a mean-looking dog. These dogs are vetted to ensure that they have the characteristics that we’re looking for this particular program. That being said, if you go to a school, you go to National Night Out, everybody can pet this dog,” Keeling said.
“She’s not a vicious dog,” Rowe said of Hype. “All she wants is somebody to pet her and love on her.”
Though Keeling said he doesn’t have a goal for how many dogs he puts in police departments, he said police dogs build “a strong connection” with the public.
“There’s so much impact within the community in all areas, but I truly believe that every police department, small (or) big, should be able to at least be able to make that decision if they want a police dog or not,” he said.
Information from: Southwest Times Record, http://www.swtimes.com/