STAFFORD — Stafford police officer Kano chewed on his ball after the red nose pit bull assisted in his first drug bust on Monday — finding more than $7,500 worth of marijuana.
It’s the 55-pound puppy’s favorite toy and what he thinks he is searching for. The 1-year-old is unique: saved from the animal shelter and possible euthanasia, has one blue and yellow eye (a trait known in as little as 3.5 percent of dogs) and is the first K-9 pit bull in Kansas.
He also has an uncanny love for his orange and blue squeaky Chuckit! ball that only another dog would understand. Kano — named after a Mortal Kombat character who also has two different colored eyes — can barely be distracted once he spots his ball.
He sits poised, his muscles showing from his brown and white head down to his paws, watching the ball with his mismatched eyes. With pinned ears, Kano is a menacing sight for any bad guy.
But he’s not a biter, nor is any other pit bull that comes from Universal K-9, a nonprofit organization that trains dogs in San Antonio.
“If they were this vicious great bite dogs wouldn’t the police want them on the force?” Operations Director Brad Croft said. “They are no good at it. They are no good at taking people down. But I will tell you what they are damn good at, (drug) detection.”
Since 2010, Croft said they have trained thousands of K-9s. The organization started as a for-profit but changed to a nonprofit a few years ago to rescue pit bulls that awaited adoption or euthanasia in a shelter.
Instead, Croft and Universal K-9 began to train them for police work. Croft said they look for pit bulls between 12 to 32 months old so departments would get a longer career out of the dog.
To make the adventure possible, Universal K-9 partnered with Animal Farm Foundation. The foundation advocates for pit bulls and agreed to cover the cost of a handler course. That two-week course costs $2,900 for drug detection or $5,900 for drug detection and tracking.
A trained German Shepherd or Belgian Malinois — the more popular K-9s — can go for over $13,000. But with shelters filling with pit bulls and the foundation paying the fee for the handler course, Universal K-9’s began offering trained pit bulls to departments that couldn’t otherwise afford a K-9.
There are now 52 Universal K-9 pit bulls out on the streets.
“They are there kicking butts and taking names,” Croft said, adding pit bulls usually outwork most other breeds during the training course — as did Kano.
An arrest was made in the Great Bend marijuana bust, and more are expected. No name was released by the Barton County Sheriff’s Office, which called Stafford officer and Kano’s handler, Mason Paden, to assist with the drug bust.
The two have been nearly inseparable since they met at Universal K-9’s handler course from Oct. 16-27. Paden applied to and was accepted for the course supported by the Animal Farm Foundation. The only cost to the Stafford Police Department was travel and lodging.
Paden knew he was getting a pit bull that had been trained by the Universal K-9. But he didn’t know which one. Kano made the decision when he ran out of the cage and at Paden’s feet and became the first certified pit bull K-9 in Kansas’ history, according to the Kansas Police Dog Association and the Heart of America Police Dog Association.
Paden fell in love with the breed after he got Bailee, a brown pit bull mix, seven years ago.
He and Kano usually work the night shift from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. in the town of fewer than 1,000 residents, making the same laps around the town that “shuts down after midnight.”
Then, they go home to Paden’s girlfriend, Ashley Freidenberger, and about a dozen pit bulls or pit bull mixes. There are five puppies that will go to a home when they mature.
Paden’s father, David Paden, is a detective with the Barton County Sheriff’s Office and a former K-9 handler. Paden had worked with his father’s dogs and grew up around rottweilers. Paden first worked at the department in his hometown of Great Bend where shifts were busy.
“I wish there was more action,” he said. “I still treat it the same.”
Kano is certified to detect marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin and ecstasy. In the future, Paden hopes to have Kano trained in tracking as well.
Stafford police chief Doug Brown said the town has had an increase in drugs, mostly marijuana and methamphetamine. He knows Kano will be an asset to the department.
“I am a firm believer of being in the schools. That’s where you will find (the drugs) the fastest in a small town,” Brown said, adding drugs have come in waves in his decades as police chief. “I think there is a major influx right now.”