Austin Pets Alive pit bulls training to become police K-9s

Program trains pit bulls as police dogs

AUSTIN -- While some cities are trying to ban residents from owning pit bulls, one organization is training them to become police dogs. Universal K-9 is taking five pit bull mixes from Austin Pets Alive to train and work for departments across the country.

For more than five months, an energetic dog named Brooklyn has called the Austin Pets Alive (APA) shelter home. Not because she wouldn't make a great pet, but because no one wants her.

"That large, blocky-headed, short coated dog, that's the dog that, again, there's the image problem," said APA Dog Behavior Program Manager Mike Kavian, "and we just see a ton of them here in Austin."

Kavian said pit bulls and pit bull mixes have a bad reputation and people often judge them before they get to know them. They are the type of dog the shelter has the most of, and are the hardest to adopt out.

But Friday, Brooklyn had a chance to break free from shelter life, if she could meet certain criteria.

"If he'll get inside this bucket, he'll get inside of an 18-wheeler," said Brad Croft as he tested the dog.

Croft is the Operations Director of Universal K-9. His San Antonio company started out training dogs for military and police K-9 units.

"I noticed, throughout the years, that there were a lot of smaller departments that didn't have the 20, you know, thousand dollars to spend on a dog," Croft said.

So he thought of another option that would provide departments the dogs they need while saving dogs from euthanization. He started training unwanted shelter dogs and giving them to departments at no cost. The departments only have to pay to train officers which costs about $2,500.

"Any dog can do police work, all they need is the chance to do it," said Croft. "And we've proven it time and time and time again."

"Usually the dogs that, that nobody wants, you know as a pet because they're high, high energy, you know those dogs usually get euthanized, but those dogs are excellent for this type of work," he added.

Take 10-month-old Blue. The Blue Heeler was extremely abused, rescued in one of the worst animal cruelty cases the sheriff of Harrison County had ever seen. Croft said she was close to death. Now, after just a few months of training, Blue is a narcotics dog for Palestine Police Department.

A mixed breed dog, Remi, has a similar success story. She was set to be euthanized the day before Croft picked her up. Now, she's an integral part of Midlothian Police.

"She actually tracked two suspects with a large amount of dope that actually tried to run over two of our officers, and was able to track them down in a barn, and it was 100 degree heat," said Corporal Wesley Keeling of Midlothian PD.

Keeling said Remi replaces the department's German Shepherd who became ill. He found Croft's program and thought it would be a good way to save the department money, and save a dog. He said Remi works just as well and has a better temperament so he is able to take her around children.

Despite the success stories, there is one type of dog Croft wants to work with, but departments aren't open to taking; pit bulls and pit bull mixes. But thanks to a grant, that's changing.

"The challenge that we had is that we have a lot of dogs that would be considered pit bull dogs here," said Kavian.

"So we kind of ran into a bit of a standstill, we had dogs here perfect for the work, Brad wanted them, but we didn't have police departments that were open enough to take them. So Animal Farm Foundation stepped in and granted us five dogs a year, granted Universal K-9 five dogs a year, five pit bull terrier dogs to be taken in and everything is paid for. The police department doesn't pay a single dime."

Croft already took one pit bull from APA and it is now doing police work in Oklahoma. He was at the shelter Friday to pick up four other dogs. He already had three in mind, and after a few test, Brooklyn took the fourth spot. She and the others will now enter the program that turns the community's unwanted pets, into crime fighting K-9s.


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