Pubdate: 29 Nov 2002
Source: Pueblo Chieftain (CO)
Copyright: 2002 The Star-Journal Publishing Corp.
Author:  Seth Hettena


SAN DIEGO - Mexico's most-feared drug cartel put a price on his head. Over 
the years, his keen senses routinely frustrated smugglers by sniffing out 
33 tons of drugs valued at more than $306 million.

This week, though, Officer Krowbar retired from the U.S. Customs Service, 
praised by agency officials as the best drug dog ever to work at the 
world's busiest border crossing.

"I've never seen an animal like this in my life," said James Henderson, who 
heads the Customs Service's K-9 unit in Southern California and has been 
working with dogs since 1961. "He's a living legend."

About two years ago, investigators heard through informants that the 
Arellano-Felix cartel, the powerful Tijuana-based drug smuggling gang, had 
put a $50,000 price on Krowbar's head, Henderson said.

Krowbar never stopped working. But he turns 10 in a few months - that's the 
equivalent of 70 in human years - and he's earned a well-deserved rest in 
the backyard of the home of his handler, Officer Steve Ralston.

In a ceremony this week marking the end of the dog's days working what 
agents call "the line," Ralston slipped the U.S. Customs Service dog collar 
off Krowbar's neck and replaced it with a plain black one.

"Every time I took that dog out on that line he hunted like there was no 
tomorrow," said Ralston, who got Krowbar from a Los Angeles breeder. "What 
we called work, that was a game to him."

The 85-pound Belgian Malinois, a breed that resembles German Shepherds, 
seemed a little confused by all the attention at the San Ysidro Port of 
Entry, which links Mexico and San Diego.

He yawned and coughed a few times during speeches.

His ears did prick up, however, when the audience applauded the highlights 
of his seven-year career: seizures totaling more than 65,000 pounds of 
marijuana, 700 pounds of cocaine and 34 pounds of heroin.

In 1999, Krowbar and Ralston received the Commissioner's Award, from 
then-Commissioner Raymond Kelly in Washington, D.C. Kelly shook Ralston's 
hand and Krowbar's paw.

Ralston will soon start working with a 4-year-old Rottweiler named Brownie.

The 50 or so Customs dogs that work in San Diego are hunting for a favorite 
toy - in Krowbar's case, a small, white towel - when they search through 
some of the 40,000 vehicles that cross from Tijuana, Mexico, on an average 
day. In training, they learn to associate the smell of drugs with the toy.

But Krowbar showed an unusual eagerness to find his towel, making him a 
stellar dog. A typical Customs dog in its career will sniff out half or 
less of the amount of drugs Krowbar found.

"He's one of those one-in-a-million dogs," Henderson said.

The U.S. Customs Service isn't the only American agency that depends on 
dogs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Border Patrol also rely on 
trained dogs to sniff out everything from cocaine to contraband plants.

The agencies get their four-legged assistants from a variety of places. 
Border Patrol often orders its dogs from Western Europe, importing breeds 
based on the results of police experiments. Other agencies go to animal 
shelters, bounce a ball around and look to see which dogs seem interested 
in playing.

After weeeks of training, the dogs learn to react in a variety of ways. 
Customs dogs will scratch and bark. Border Patrol and USDA dogs exhibit 
what is called a "passive alert" - that is, they sit at attention.

Krowbar began his retirement by gnawing contentedly on a farewell gift: a 
foot-long rawhide bone. Customs also gave him a small red fire hydrant that 
will sit in his backyard.