Pubdate: 29 Nov 2002 Source: Pueblo Chieftain (CO) Copyright: 2002 The Star-Journal Publishing Corp. Contact: http://www.chieftain.com/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/1613 Author: Seth Hettena TOP DRUG DOG RETIRING 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.