A three-year-old black Lab named Two Paw has joined the ranks of Calhoun County deputies as a trained bomb and explosive sniffing canine.
Two Paw came to the agency by way of Auburn University, graduating two weeks ago from Canine Detection Research Institute. Through a grant with the U.S. Department of Justice, Auburn is able to train explosive-sniffing dogs alongside members of canine units in local agencies across the state at no cost. Sheriff Larry Amerson said the only expense paid for Two Paw was the time paid to train Deputy Brad Bowdoin alongside Two Paw for 10 weeks at the university.
According to Chris Angle, the associate director for the program at Auburn, the grant began in 2009 and since that time 18 dogs have been trained, two of which went to Calhoun County.
“I don’t know if it was budgetary issues at first preventing local agencies from taking part, but I think with the turn in economy we’re seeing more dogs get trained,” Angle said. “More are starting to come forward.”
Bowdoin was part of this year’s training session and was paired with Two Paw based on personality similarities.
“She’s a great dog,” Bowdoin said Tuesday, laughing while trying to come up with an explanation for their pairing. “She’s not aggressive at all, has a great nose.”
Bowdoin gave a quick demonstration of Two Paw’s skills Tuesday in the Sheriff’s Office parking lot as Amerson explained the situations in which Two Paw’s training can relieve pressure on deputies.
“Say you got a bomb threat at the courthouse,” Amerson said. “Well, you got four floors, all those hallways, all those boxes in the office, all those places a bomb can be concealed.”
That job could take a search team hours, but a well-trained dog could get it done in the fraction of the time.
Amerson said the county has been lucky, and threats of explosives have mostly been just threats. That doesn’t mean Two Paw’s training can’t be used in other beneficial ways.
“You got an instance where you have 40 inmates saying, 'I’m not going to my cell, I’m not doing what you say,'” Amerson said, highlighting a scenario in which trained dogs can cut back on the manpower needed at the jail. “I say, "You got 30 seconds to get back to your cell, before I let the dog loose. We really hope you go back to your cell'"
Amerson described Two Paw as an “unassuming looking” dog, but Angle said all the dogs trained for scent detection at Auburn are conditioned to maximum potential alongside their detection training.
“Just like Auburn football players ... start conditioning in the morning, so do our dogs,” Angle said. “We get them to exercise, run, swim, anything we can do to get these dogs conditioned and get them ready to work.”
And while Two Paw hasn’t seen any action in her first two weeks on the job, Bowdoin said he continues to exercise and train with the dog every day to keep her ready.
“Trained dogs are just a great force multiplier,” Amerson said. “They can run faster, smell better, go to places we can’t get to.”
Two Paw joins a force of three other dogs at the agency, and a long line of other canines who have helped deputies over the years. Showing off a makeshift wall of fame in the Calhoun County Jail, Amerson pointed to a picture of one of the county’s first trained dogs, Floyd, who after retirement in 2010, ran away.
Most of the dogs working with deputies are Labrador retrievers, but Amerson said there were no words to describe Floyd.
“I don’t know what Floyd was,” he said with a laugh. “He was just a good ole Alabama redneck dog.”
Floyd, and all the trained dogs, get sworn in to office, and Floyd’s deputy’s oath, with his paw print on the signature line, hangs proudly on the walls.
Two Paw has a lot to live up to, but Bowdoin believes she’s up for the challenge.
“She enjoys the work,” Bowdoin said. “For her, it’s just play. She loves doing it.”