If teaching an old dog new tricks seems difficult, then try teaching a stray one.
Just ask Jason Walters, a SEPTA cop and co-founder of Throw Away Dogs, a local nonprofit dedicated to training strays to become police dogs.
“You don’t know what they’ve been through,” Walters said. “The dog could have been teased or taunted.”
As the handler for K-9 Winchester, a German Shepherd that came straight to K-9 training from a shelter, Walters speaks from experience.
“You can’t kennel them, because all they want to do is get away from fencing.” he said. “Once they get into a home and can roam around, they start to come down.”
Walters co-founded Throw Away Dogs with pet hotel worker Carol Skaziak, who is the wife of a Philly cop, earlier this year to help abandoned dogs find new lives as police dogs.
Out of 8,000 dogs who entered Animal Care and Control Team of Philadelphia shelters this year, 43 were German Shepherds.
“Shepherds don’t do well in shelters at all,” Skaziak said. “Some dogs come to us completely distraught.”
At the Philadelphia PSPCA shelter, there are currently seven German Shepherds out of 155 dogs.
“German Shepherds tend to find placement quickly,” said PSPCA Humane Enforcement Sgt. Nicole Wilson. “But anytime that someone is looking to take a homeless animal and provide it with the training and care that it needs, it is a good thing.”
But training a K9 is a tough process. Only two “Throw Away” dogs completed training at the level where they could apply for K9 work — and only one dog obtained its certification and got work in Maryland.
“We’re looking for dogs with a good nose,” Walters said.
K9s may specialize in tasks like patrol, or searching for things like explosives, narcotics, prison contraband and cadavers.
“We want dogs with high energy — because they are worked hard,” Skaziak said.
Throw Away Dogs, which recently was certified as a 401(c)(3) nonprofit, just released their 2015 K9s and Cuffs calendar with pictures of K9s which have distinguished themselves in the line of duty.
They hope to train more dogs, all of which will be donated to departments in need. All proceeds from the calendar’s sales benefit the organization and its mission.
“If we can save one police dog a year and adopt out four other dogs to families, we consider that a success,” Walters said.
Two pups in the Throw Away Dogs calendar are particularly famed for theirheroism.
K9 Kota, assigned to the police department of Winchester, Virginia, was injured earlier this year. Kota found two intruders hiding in a home’sattic while investigating a break-in– but then fell through the thin floor.Kota broke his leg in the fall, but still managed to hobble back up the stairs to check on his handler.
After months of surgery and recovery, Kota returned to active duty.
K9 Bruno, based in Anaheim, Ca. and now retired, was injured earlier this year. When Bruno discovered an armed suspect, the man shot Brunoandfired at three police officers.One bullet shattered Bruno’s jaw and another nearly struck his heart.
But after being shot Bruno ran back to his handler and still had his ears up, ready to continue work, reports say.
“It’s inexplicable,” Walters said of the K9-handler bond.