FERRIS – Shelter dogs are trained to become weapon- and drug-detection dogs to assist police officers in fighting crime through the Animal Farm Foundation’s Detection Dog Grant Program and Sector K9.
Ferris Independent School District held an AFF/Sector K9 Detection Dog Graduation Ceremony on Feb. 28 for some of these special canines, according to a news release.
Dogs are donated by the shelter and trained by the Sector K9 program to become skilled detection dogs. As detection dogs, they can aid police departments and help keep the community safe.
Wes Keeling, director of the Sector K9 program, is a long-time police officer with a heart to save dogs from the shelter and give them a purpose.
“I partner with Animal Farm Foundation out of New York and they’re a nonprofit organization. Together we rescue dogs out of shelters around the country that have the drive and characteristics that we require to be police K9s,” Keeling said. “Just detection only, so they only smell things.”
Animal Farm gives Keeling a grant to train the animals and then Keeling gives the trained dogs for free to approved applicants. These applicants are usually police departments that cannot afford to pay for a trained K9 dog.
They have about 70 detection dogs out right now, all over the United States, Keeling said. The supply is usually given based on the demand.
Before graduating, these dogs train with Keeling for eight weeks. On Friday, there were seven graduates and three were from Texas. The graduates were:
K9 Storm and Officer Levie Smith from Ferris.
K9 Blackjack and Officer Alberto Stout from Alice.
K9 Liberty and Officer Larry Nunes from Perryville, Ky.
K9 Ace and Officer Rick James from Trainer, Penn.
K9 Skunk and Officer Jim Lewis from Hookstown, Penn.
K9 Bravo and Officer Ron Carroll from Addis, La.
K9 Dodger and Officer Eric Keaton from Spur.
Officer Levie Smith trained with K9 Storm, a labrador-pit mix, for just two weeks, since Storm had already been certified. Smith recently became a handler after Storm’s previous handler, Jon Julian, was promoted to lieutenant. Smith is assigned to Ferris Junior High School, now with Storm by his side.
“I am very excited to be a handler,” Smith said. “This gives us another opportunity and a tool to be able to keep drugs and crimes from our school."
Through the AFF and the Sector K9 program, dogs are given a skill and then they’re given to departments and schools to keep crime and drugs away.
“It’s a really good program to me, personally. A lot of these dogs probably wouldn’t be adopted out so this gives those dogs a second chance because they actually have a skill,” Smith said.
In his experience, Storm is able to be used as a talking tool at the school. Sometimes kids shy away from police officers out of fear, Smith said, but having a dog makes conversations with students easier.
“We’re really grateful to the Animal Farm Foundation because it didn’t cost my department anything,” Smith said. “We have a small department and for them to go out of their way to sponsor us officers, to give us this dog with these skills, we're very appreciative."