Boots: The story of a stray pup
turned Narcotics K9
Boots is a seven-year-old Border Collie / Queensland
Heeler mix who was certified by the ASCT as a narcotics-detection K9 in April of 2011. Some people say she's a Border Collie
/ McNabb mix, but due to her unknown life prior to our finding her, nobody knows for sure. Her life story is one that may
make you think differently about the next “useless” stray dog you run across. You never know what potential may
lie inside of that pup. It was a Tuesday evening in mid-December 2005, around
9:00 pm. My wife, Ellen, was driving home from work, here in Winnemucca, Nevada. The heavy snow that was falling made visibility
very poor. She thought she saw something standing in the middle of the roadway, but was unsure. Suddenly she saw the white
mane of a small dog, and swerved to avoid hitting the pup. She pulled to the side of the roadway and got out of her car. She
then flagged down two cars that were approaching, to keep them from running the animal over. She snatched up the pup, and
took it home. Based upon the dog's condition, the snow and the extreme cold, had Ellen not found the pup when she did, the
dog would have most-likely not made it through another 24 hours.
Ellen came home and informed me that she had
picked up the stray. I went to the kitchen to see the dog, and found a very small, very young female pup, black and white
in color. We already owned two dogs, so I told Ellen that I would try to adopt the new pup out. I estimated the age of the
little girl to be around 5 weeks. After a few days of searching for someone to adopt her, the pup's personality and brains
won her a spot in our hearts, and family. We took her to a vet, got her shots, and had a tick removed from inside of her ear.
We also named her, actually my wife did. All of the pup's feet were white. I suggested “Socks”. My wife liked
“Boots”. I'm happy to admit that we chose “Boots”.
Over the next few years, Boots became my constant
companion. She was never really trained in the normal obedience skills. She just picked things up, very quickly. Heel, sit,
stay, come, all of the regular commands seemed to come naturally to her. Then, in November of 2010 I decided to make a career
move from the Winnemucca Police Department to the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office. Both agencies cover the same geographic
area, and I had worked alongside the S.O. for 11 years. I knew the Sheriff, Ed Kilgore, very well, and we made an agreement
that he would get me a narcotics K9 if I came to work for him. Two weeks later I was a member of the HCSO.
In mid-December of that year, the Sheriff called
me into his office and told me that an ASCT trainer in Elko, Nevada (located approximately 90 miles away from Winnemucca)
had a Belgian Malinois that would turn one year old in February of 2011. He told me that would be my Narcotics K9. I, of course,
was thrilled. I had wanted to work with a police K9 since I was in the Army in the mid 1980's, but it had just never worked
out. After my initial joy, I thought about the situation a bit. By this time, my wife and I had adopted 4 more “rescue”
dogs, giving us a total of 7 dogs in the household. I wasn't sure how well a spring-loaded, one-year old Malinois would fit
in with our pack. I also couldn't see leaving Boots at home while I drove off to work every day with another dog. Boots pretty
much went everywhere with me, and I was worried that she'd be crushed by my betrayal.
So, I spoke to the Sheriff, and told him of
my concerns. I had never trained a dog for police work, but I did have a lot of exposure to police K9's over the years. I
understood that the major traits needed to make a good narcotics dog were brains, and a super-high play (prey) drive. Boots
possessed both of these qualities, so I asked the sheriff if he would allow me to try to train Boots. If it worked, he could
give the Malinois to another Deputy. Sheriff Kilgore told me to go ahead and give it a shot.Soon afterwards, I contacted ASCT Master Trainers Mike Marshowsky and
Doug Fisher. Both are law enforcement officers in Elko, and Mike is the breeder who had the Malinois that I was initially
supposed to get. I brought Boots to Elko and let them run her through a few tests. Both men agreed that she had potential,
so I got the imprinting and training information from them. In early January 2011, Boots and I started training.
Boots caught on immediately. I was so happy
that she was doing well, because I was pretty unsure of myself as far as being able to train a narcotics dog. Over the next
three months, we trained every day. During that time, a couple of other “trainers” told me that they felt that
I was wasting my time. They felt that Boots would, at best, become a “C” level dog, that would need a lot of extra
training throughout her career just to slide by. We did have a couple of times that things didn't go well, and I started to
become discouraged. Luckily, Marshowsky and Fisher were able to help me through the issues, whether by phone, or in person.
On two or three occasions, Boots and I travelled to Elko for some “hands-on” assistance from Mike and Doug. The
help these two ASCT Instructors provided was invaluable, and I appreciated them taking their own time to assist us in becoming
Our ASCT basic training and certification course
was scheduled for mid-April of 2011. As of April 1st, Boots was finding the hides very well, and we were really
enjoying our training sessions. Sheriff Kilgore wanted Boots to be a passive alert dog. Unfortunately, I wasn't doing very
well at getting her to “sit” when she found the hides. I spent so much time trying to get her “ultra-motivated”,
that I didn't know how to pull her back. I spoke with the Sheriff and he told me that he didn't care what type of alert she
performed, as long as it was consistent and certifiable. Boots was already scratching at the hides when she found them, so
I decided to let her use that action as her final response.
We went to the certification course, and I
was pretty nervous. I was proud of Boots and the work that she had done, and I wanted everyone else to feel the same way.
After the second day of the course, I was sure that she had what it takes, and she was doing great. The rest of the course
was some of the most fun I can remember having. I looked forward to having her perform her searches, and most of the time,
she performed beautifully. When we did have a hiccup, the ASCT personnel were great at explaining why it had occurred, and
how to fix it. The main thing I learned was that the issues that needed work were all my fault! Boots knew what she
was doing, I was the clod holding her back.
At the end of the course, both Mike and Doug
told me how happy they were with the progress that Boots and I had made. Even ASCT Senior Master Instructor Chris Aycock told
me what a good job Boots was doing. We certified, and have been riding together every day since.
During the 18 months since our certification,
Boots has conducted more than 100 sniffs that have resulted in a narcotics seizure. She has taken well over 150 pounds of
Marijuana off of the streets, as well as numerous Methamphetamine seizures. As a result of sniffs conducted by Boots, we've
seized greater than $30,000.00 in cash and vehicles, used in the trafficking of illegal narcotics. I feel like a rookie again! Having Boots by my side has rejuvenated my drive, and my enjoyment of the job.
Having a K9 to work with involves a lot of work, but I have ever enjoyed any work assignment nearly as much. Working with
your best friend is the greatest reward I could experience. I thank the ASCT for helping Boots and I to become the team we
now are. I'm confident that she's loving it as much as I.
Finally, the Malinois I was supposed to
get is named Zyla. She now works with my cohort, Sgt. Lee Dove. They've done a remarkable job together and have been
extremely successful! THANKS ASCT!