Some local stray dogs are getting a new "leash" on life, thanks to a program offered by a local company that trains working dogs for law enforcement agencies.
KSAT 12 News first reported on Universal K9's grant program in 2013, which rescues dogs from San Antonio area shelters, trains them and then turns them over to police departments free of charge.
Monday was the first day of training for a new class of officers, who start the two-week training program run by Universal K9's instructors.
The officers come from departments in Oklahoma, North Carolina and Virginia to learn how to handle their future four-legged partners.
"Right now the handler is the one we have to train, the dogs know what they're supposed to do," said instructor Ray Nunez.
After a brief introduction the dogs and the officers get to work, searching for drugs hidden in church classrooms.
The drugs are actually scents that mimic the smell of large quantities of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine.
On day one the officers get a heads up about where the drugs are placed, and the instructors are more interested in seeing how the handlers and dogs pair up.
"We have each officer work a separate dog and then we rotate them to see which dog works best for that officer," said owner Brad Croft.
While the dogs have already been trained to detect the scents, they have never worked with the officers before, so Croft expects to see plenty of mistakes from the dogs and their handlers early in the training process.
"We're expecting to see the officers pull the dog off the odor, we're expecting to see the officer trip over the dog," Croft said. "Lots of mistakes in the very beginning. Usually about the second week is when we start seeing a huge difference."
Croft started the grant program after seeing smaller law enforcement agencies struggle to come up with the tens of thousands of dollars required to purchase and train a K-9 officer and seeing the large number of strays on San Antonio's streets.
In a short time, Croft has put dogs on the streets all across the country and continues to get requests to take part in the program.
"They're coming from all over, budget constraints and what have you. They can't afford an $8,000 to $10,000 dog," Croft said. "So we are donating the training and the dog, and it's making a huge difference."
Chris Watson drove 22 hours from Virginia to take part in the training class. His department already has six K-9's but the grant program is helping them expand for a minimal cost.
"It cost me money to get here, and thanks to the company they're able to train the dogs and you get a good dog for free at the end," Watson said. "It's a new chapter in my life, and every day for the next two weeks is going to be a learning experience and I look forward to learning as much as I can and getting the dog back on the streets."
While they have a lot to learn in the next two weeks, Croft said the teams will be ready for duty when graduation day rolls around.
"It's a huge, satisfying thing to see these dogs come from where they're coming from, and then see these green handlers come in and then to watch them work as a team together is unbelievable," Croft said.