You wouldn’t know it by looking at her now, but Kara, a narcotics detection dog in Colorado, didn’t always have such a bright future.
Early this year, Kara was given up by her owners after getting pregnant. Pit Bull mixes don’t always have good odds in high-kill shelters, and Kara’s chances may have been slim if she wound up in one.
Kara’s owners made some calls to rehome her, and one of them to was no-kill shelter Canyon Lake Animal Shelter Society (CLASS). Unfortunately, they were told the facility was completely full and couldn’t take her. As one of the few no-kill shelters in the area, CLASS gets a lot of phone calls and cannot take every animal they’re offered—especially Kara and her eight newborn puppies.
“But they called back and said they’d be forced to take them to another shelter where their odds will be pretty bad,” says Angie Gilstrap, president of CLASS, which is based outside of San Antonio, Texas. “So we found a foster home for her and her puppies where she’d be safe and up for adoption through our program.”
But Kara, Gilstrap soon learned, was meant for a life beyond that of a family pet.
Kara’s New Start
Kara spent eight weeks in foster care until all of her puppies were successfully adopted, and then she went back to CLASS, where volunteers were hoping to find her a good home.
While Kara could have ended up being a great pet, CLASS saw something in her that sparked a “what if?” moment. Gilstrap contacted Brad Croft, the operations director at Universal K9, a program that trains rescued Pit Bull mixes for law enforcement work at no cost.
“I know what Brad tends to look for in dogs, and one of those qualities is ball drive,” says Gilstrap. “When Kara came to us, I saw that she was totally ball crazy, so I gave Brad a call.”
When Croft met Kara, he saw the same intense drive, good nerves and focus under pressure to join the ranks.
Kara was flown from Texas to Colorado and, after eight weeks of training, graduated from the narcotics detection training program this past June. From there, Kara joined the Colorado Mounted Rangers, a volunteer unit that assists local authorities in drug detection. Kara is now part of the first (and so far only) K9 unit in Colorado that’s comprised exclusively of Pit Bull mixes.
“[Pit Bulls and Pit Bull mixes] are banned in a number of Colorado communities, like Denver and Aurora,” says Dawn Havens, a Colorado Rangers law enforcement veteran who is Kara’s handler and owner.
Under normal circumstances, these bans would mean Kara shouldn’t even be allowed where she works, but her status puts her in a very special place, allowing her, and other Pit Bull mixes, to work and live in Colorado.
“It’s entirely possible that her services could be needed in Denver or other areas where Pit Bulls are banned,” says Havens. “She’s been given the chance to work in these areas because of her certification in narcotics detection and tracking.”
A Day in the Life of a Police Dog
When asked about being paired with Kara, Havens says there could not have been a better match.
“She is the perfect partner and we have a very strong bond,” says Havens. “She loves my whole family but she knows I’m her person; we clicked immediately.”
On a typical day, Kara might stop by a police station, a customs office or storage facility, or even a random spot where she can help law enforcement search and identify potential drugs.
“She knows when the gear comes out it’s time to work and she loves what she does,” Havens says. “I guess that’s what makes her so great at her job.”
When she’s not working, Kara lives with Havens at her home and is very much a regular pet.
“As much as I hate to admit it, she is very spoiled,” says Havens. “But it doesn’t affect her performance at all so she will continue to be spoiled.”
Images via: Karen Hoglund and Chris Smith
Diana Bocco is a full-time writer and adventurer, whose work has been published in DiscoveryChannel.com, Yahoo!, & Popular Mechanics.