When it comes to finding illegal drugs, weapons, explosives and other contraband nothing beats the nose of a well-trained dog.
While many large law enforcement agencies have several working police dogs, the four-legged officers can be out of reach for smaller departments because of their cost.
Universal K9 is a local business that is trying to fix that problem.
"We train police dogs and military dogs," said Brad Croft with Universal K9. "Traditionally how we do it is we import specific breeds from overseas that have been pre-conditioned for this type of work."
Universal K9 trains those dogs and sells them to law enforcement agencies and the military, but Croft realized there was a need for the same kind of dogs at smaller police departments. At the same time he knew there were many good dogs that needed to be rescued from local animal shelters.
"What we have found is that there is a need for dogs being rescued here in town and some of these dogs have the ability to do the same things the dogs that we are getting from overseas," Croft said. "We noticed that there were a lot of departments needing and wanting these dogs, but couldn't afford them."
Training dogs to do law enforcement work is not cheap, it could cost a department anywhere from $10,000 to $16,000. So Croft and his trainers are providing the rescued dogs free of charge.
"We're donating the dog and the training of the dog, to all the police departments interested in obtaining one of these dogs," Croft said. "There is no cost to rescuing the dogs so what we're doing is we're donating our time and we've typically been taking about a month to train these dogs. The dogs have been coming out just as good if not as good as the dogs we buy from overseas."
In just three months Croft said they've trained 10 dogs that are now working the streets in small towns in Florida, Oklahoma and Texas.
Since many of the dogs have been neglected or never trained correctly, Croft and his trainers have to teach the dogs new tricks.
"We take back steps with them and we teach them that it's OK to be a dog, it's OK to jump here, it's OK to grab that ball and keep it for yourself," Croft said. "Once they understand that they don't need to have those manners and are able to do those things, then we put the control back into them and teach them how to find drugs and explosives. Every dog that we've put out there has already made finds."
One of the dogs that has been through the program is Kilo, a black lab mix. He was rescued from the Kirby animal shelter and recently sniffed out a pile of cash and drugs.
Kirby Animal Control officer Estephen Centeno said without the program Kilo likely would have been euthanized. He said he was amazed when he saw a news clip of one of the rescued dogs working in Florida.
"Seeing a dog that came through our doors as a working dog, it just brought tears to both me and my boss’ eyes," Centeno said. "Sometimes it feels like there's more bad than good but when you hear success stories like that it's just amazing, it makes you feel overjoyed."
Croft said it's a win-win scenario, small departments get well trained dogs at basically no cost and the dogs get a second chance.
It takes about a month to train a dog to sniff out drugs and explosives and a few additional weeks to train the officers that will work with them.
Croft said the new rescue program is creating a big buzz with nearly 150 departments around the country waiting for dogs.