Wednesday, August 23, 2006
An abused, dying pup becomes a drug-sniffing superdog
KOOL K-9 Popsicle
<~From People Weekly Magazine Edition April 26, 1999 The "Animal" chronicle, Page 117
"He's a little ball of fire" says U.S. Customs officer J.J. Trevino of Popsicle (Receiving a significant Seizure medal in March).
During an arrest two years ago, Buffalo policeman Ron Clark, Jr. opened an abandoned freezer on a known drug dealer's back porch and found a bulging black garbage bag.
"I poked my flashlight at it," he recalls, "and it started moving. My worst fear was that it was a baby."In fact, it was a puppy, a pit bull who would be known as Popsicle and -- in a lovely ironic twist-- would gain fame for sniffing out the kind of bad guy that nearly killed him.
One year ago, Popsicle helped the feds seize 3,075 pounds of cocaine from a pineapple-laden truck at the Mexican border-the biggest drug bust ever at the Hidalgo, Texas, port of entry. "It's astounding the obstacles this dog has overcome," says US Customs Service Commissioner Raymond W. Kelley.
When Officer Clark found the wounded, blood-caked animal who had apparently been used in pit bull fights, he was undernourished, hypothermic and near death. "He was in bad shape, but I was drawn to him," says SPCA adoption counselor Shannon Willie, who name the pup Popsicle.
Alas, people who visited the shelter looking to adopt a puppy were put off by his breed's reputation. They would take one look at the pit bull and walk away.
When Popsicle regained his strength, the shelter contacted US Customs canine-enforcement officer Sally Barr. It was a long shot, but maybe he would qualify for the dog training school in Front Royal, VA.
Of 500 dogs Barr has tested in the last three years, only 4 have made the cut. "You want a dog that plays a terrific tug-of-war," says Barr. Popsicle did, and in February 1998 he graduated at the top of his class and became a celebrated alumnus two months later by detecting the record contraband cache under a tractor-trailer.
"You have to imagine him," says US Customs canine handler J.J. Trevino ,"on his hind legs, barking, trying to reach up to the bottom of the truck."
Back in Buffalo, where the bad guy eventually got off with probation for animal cruelty, Ron Clark remains awed by Popsicle's comeback. "I still don't know why I opened that refrigerator," says Clark. "But it feel like it was meant to be."