Traditional canine officers for law enforcement agencies can run tens of thousands of dollars. And tens of thousands of excellent homeless dogs are euthanized in shelters each year. Why not solve both these problems? Why not save a life and provide canine officers for free? That’s exactly what Brad Croft decided to do with Universal K9.
“I realized there were a lot of smaller departments out there that couldn’t afford $10,000 to $20,000 per dog,” says Brad, the operations director for Universal K9. “And I also knew there were millions of capable dogs in shelters that could do this work.”
So, in 2010, Croft founded Universal K9 based out of San Antonio. Its mission is to work with shelters and rescues from across the nation through a grant funded by the Bangall, New York-based Animal Farm Foundation, seeking high-drive dogs that would be excellent police dogs and canines used for drug and weapon detection.
“They’re going to get put down,” says Brad, “And it’s a shame. Why waste a dog like that? We can utilize him. This is the way.” Shelter dogs are sent to the Universal K9 training facility and spend 8 to 10 weeks learning how to be skilled detection canines, sniffing out everything from heroin to semi-automatic weapons, protecting their human partner or chasing down suspects.
Law enforcement agencies receive these dogs free of charge funded by a grant provided by the Animal Farm Foundation. The only cost to the agency is for handler training.
To date, more than 50 dogs have been placed in service. Every six weeks, dogs from all over the nation enter training, Brad says.
When a shelter or rescue sees a dog that exhibits certain characteristics, officials contact Brad, then through a series of emails and videos, he determines if the dog would be a good fit for his 6-week training program. “I’m looking for drive, I’m looking for nerve, I’m looking for happy, happy, happy,” he says.
Breed, size or gender does not matter at all. One of the star graduates is Loki, who is based in Howe, Texas. This 17-pound Jack Russell/Fox Terrier mix is a pro at sniffing out drugs.
Labs, Shepherd mixes, herding breeds and everything in between can be found in the training program. In fact, Pit Bulls or any variation of those canines are favorites. “They excel at detection work,” Brad says. “They are some of the best detection dogs I have ever seen. They are fantastic.”
In the future, Brad says he is looking to expand on both coasts, with new training facilities in Virginia and Lake Tahoe, Nevada. With at least 40 agencies on the program waitlist at any one time, broadening his facilities will help him not just fulfill those requests but so much more. “We’ll save plenty of dogs doing what we’re doing.”
Thumbnail: Photography courtesy Animal Farm Foundation.
Kyra Kirkwood is an author (Move Over Rover) and journalist based in Southern California. She lives with her husband, two kids, one rescue dog and three reptiles. Follow her on Twitter at @IAmTheWriteMom.
Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Dogster magazine. Have you seen the new Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? Subscribe now to get Dogster magazine delivered straight to you!