- Associated Press - Friday, October 3, 2014

BUTTE, Mont. (AP) - Not that long ago, Buster roamed the roads of rural Texas.

The Labrador mix was found wandering through a RV park alongside a four-lane highway. His fate was likely to end up killed on the roadway or euthanized at the pound.

He had no identification, only a shock collar.

By stroke of luck, a K9 trainer was across the highway.

During weeks of unsuccessfully searching for the dog’s home, Southern Star Ranch owner Sharon Perry noticed Buster had traits fitting a great search dog.

“He likes to play ball. That’s the most important thing. He would do anything for his toy,” Perry said. She decided to train him as a drug-detecting K9.

“This is the first one we just happened to find,” Perry added.

Buster was a natural. Now, he just needed a handler.

Butte police were looking for a dog.

The connection was instant when Butte police officer Steve Honer traveled to Texas to meet prospective dogs. The dog leaped into Honer’s arms and began to lick his face.

“When they met, it was love at first sight,” Perry said in a phone interview with The Standard from Florence, Texas. “Buster just jumped on his lap and that was it.”

Perry said she always has a backup dog just in case the first one isn’t a good match.

“There was no question in my mind with this one,” she said.

Honer agrees: “He’s my partner.”

This week in Butte, Buster is getting acclimated to the weather - it was 100 degrees when he left Texas recently, the elevation increase and his new surroundings in general. To help him feel at home, Honer and fellow officer Dan Murphy crafted him a custom doghouse made to resemble an old Western jail complete with bars on the windows and wanted posters on the sides. Buster also has a dog pal at home - Copper the cocker spaniel.

Honer and Buster are running drills throughout the day. The police dog will not only detect drugs but also be used for tracking. Buster can be used to help find anyone from armed suspects to lost children.

“He knows when I pull out that vest that it’s time to go to work,” Honer said, referring to Buster’s gear complete with badge.

Police dogs don’t come cheap. More than $20,000 in donations from local residents and businesses helped fund travel and training for the new partners. The community also will donate medical needs and dog food.

Even though they have only been together less than a month, Honer said it’s a match not only personally but professionally.

“He doesn’t want to leave my side,” he said. At the end of the day, the uniforms come off and they get to play.

“I’d do it for the rest of my career,” he said.

___

Information from: The Montana Standard, http://www.mtstandard.com

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