Officer Justin Bruzgul gets a lot of questions about his partner Kiah.
And a lot of fan mail.
Kiah is New York State’s first Pit Bull police dog. After a year on the force, she’s turning heads and proving that Pit Bulls and other rescues can do what’s normally been reserved for purebreds.
Kiah’s story started in Texas. She was found in as an abuse victim in a grocery store parking lot. Kiah had a bad wound on her head.
As she was nursed back to health at the Kirby Animal Shelter, her caretakers noticed there was something different about Kiah. She had an intense drive. She was fearless. She was the perfect candidate for Universal K9, a Texas non-profit that trains strays and rescues to work with law enforcement.
In the past six years, the group has placed nearly a thousand rescue dogs at departments around the country. Unlike purebred police dogs, which often have to be imported and can cost up to $15,000, the former strays are given to the agencies for free.
As soon as Universal K9’s founder Brad Croft saw Kiah, he knew he wanted her to be part of the program. She had many of the qualities he sees in imported dogs who have been training for the job since puppyhood—intangibles like being aware of her surroundings and not being bothered by crowds or noisy environments.
“You don’t just find dogs like that,” he says. “She is one in a billion.”
Kiah spent nearly five months in training. She learned how to sniff out narcotics, find missing people, and hunt down bad guys. Animal Farm Foundation, a not-for-profit corporation working to secure equal treatment for Pit Bull dogs, funded the training.
Together, Universal K9, Animal Farm Foundation, and the rescue group Austin Pets Alive! have worked together to find, train and place nearly a dozen Pit Bulls with agencies around the country.
As Kiah was wrapping up her training, Officer Bruzgul was wrapping up his application to become a K9 handler. He’d been a dog owner his whole life, and had finally completed the necessary steps at the police force to work with one. After filing his paperwork and completing the interview process, he headed out to Texas to meet his new partner.
“We got along great right from day one,” says Bruzgul.
He and Kiah went through a few rounds of training together, and then she joined the City of Poughkeepsie Police Department.
She and Bruzgul work the day shift, riding along together to burglaries and break-ins, domestic incidents, and drug calls. At work, she’s his partner. But when the day’s over, she gets to be a pet.
Kiah lives with Bruzgul, his girlfriend and their dogs Cody, a German Shepherd; Cosmo, a Jack Russell Terrier; and two miniature Yorkies named Olaf and Kong. She spends her downtime hanging with her new pack.
Bruzgul says he gets tons of letters and emails from Pit Bull fans and rescue groups, commending him and the City of Poughkeepsie Police Department for making her part of the team. He also gets a lot of questions about what it’s like to work with a Pit Bull instead of the traditional German Shepherd or Belgian Malinois.
But if you ask Brad at Universal K9, it’s Pit Bulls’ very nature—their high energy, drive, and focus—that makes them such excellent police dogs.
Officer Bruzgul agrees. “When you have a Pit Bull,” he says, “you’re always trying to make people understand why they are such great dogs.”
Images courtesy the Poughkeepsie Police Department
Helen Anne Travis is a freelance writer based in Tampa, FL. She also writes for CNN, The Guardian and The Globe and Mail.