Pit bulls are banned in eight Colorado cities, with the policy having resulted in thousands of dogs from the breed getting euthanized in Denver alone over the years. But far from being outlawed, a dog named Kara is actually enforcing the law, as the only official narcotics-detection pit bull for a state law enforcement agency, the all-volunteer Colorado Mounted Rangers.
Dawn Havens, whose main gig involves working for a local police agency in a jurisdiction where pit bulls are prohibited, is Kara's handler and also provides a home for her. As she sees it, Kara's assignment with the Rangers is a way to demonstrate that pit bulls needn't be feared. With the proper training, she argues, they can be just as effective in a law enforcement capacity as pooches more commonly used for such tasks, if not more so.
"She can do the job better than probably half the breeds they get," Havens says. "Every dog is an individual, and people need to realize that and give dogs like Kara a chance."
Havens got involved with the Colorado Mounted Rangers through "a friend who volunteered for them. We started talking, and they asked me if I'd be interested in starting a K9 program for them."
Problem was, "There was no funding. My biggest obstacle was figuring out how to get a dog without any money to spend — because K9s can cost $10,000 to $15,000, which we definitely didn't have."
So Havens began exploring her options, and her research naturally tilted toward pit bulls. After all, she's the proud owner of Sadie, a pit-bull mix she describes as "awesome. She loves everything, she's intrigued by everything, and she's a little clown with zero aggression. I have horses, and she actually plays with my horses; they run around and play and chase each other."
In recent years, Havens had also followed the story of Kiah, a pit bull that became a narcotics-detection dog for the police department in Poughkeepsie, New York. Kiah was provided to the department by San Antonio's Universal K9, whose slogan is "helping save dogs for law enforcement." She'd heard that Universal K9 "had different programs for law enforcement, and I thought, 'What does it hurt to call?' So I left a message, and the director, Brad Croft, called me back. He actually goes to shelters in San Antonio, and when they find a pit bull or another dog that shows potential in law enforcement work, they'll give him a call."
That's what happened with Kara, Havens continues: "A shelter said they had a dog with eight puppies, and Kara showed a lot of potential, and he might want to check her out. They do a two- to three-week evaluation program to see if she can do the job, and they evaluated her and trained her, and she was great. So I said, 'I need to find out how much it's going to cost. I don't have any money; I'm volunteering for this law enforcement agency, so I just need to know the prices. Do I need to do fundraising?' And Brad said, 'With Colorado and all the bans on pit bulls, we'll fund you 100 percent.'"
Croft was as good as his word. In conjunction with another advocacy group, the Animal Farm Foundation, "they funded everything," Havens confirms. "They sent me crates, collars, leashes, bowls — everything you could think of that I'd need for the dog." In addition, Universal K9 put Havens through a two-week training program in Texas last month — and when she was certified as a handler, she headed back to Colorado with Kara at her side.
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Kara, who's also a pit bull mix, is getting along well with Sadie, Havens's other dog, and in some preliminary narcotics-detection exercises, she's excelled.
"When she tracks, she's right on target," Havens says, "and when she finds the person she's looking for, she'll run right up to them, but she won't bite. Pit bulls are very protective, very loyal, but in actuality, they don't have an aggressive nature."
Indeed, Havens thinks Kara will make just as much of an impact as an example of what pit bulls are really like as she will when catching bad guys.
In her view, "I know she'll make a big difference in what people think, because they're some of the sweetest dogs out there. People need to open their eyes instead of just watching the way they make them seem on the news."