- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 1, 2006

CHARDON, Ohio — Though she is only a 6-pound Chihuahua-rat terrier mix who looks like she belongs in Paris Hilton’s purse, Midge has the will, skill and nose of a 100-pound German shepherd.

The newest recruit for the Geauga County Sheriff’s Office’s K-9 unit could very well be the nation’s smallest drug-sniffing pooch at less than 3 kilograms.

“Good girl,” Sheriff Dan McClelland said, praising the 7-month-old, tail-wagging puppy during a training exercise.

Sheriff McClelland began training Midge for drug-detecting duties when she was just 3 months old, after reading about departments being sued by suspects whose cars or homes were damaged by larger dogs.

Like many police and sheriff’s departments, Geauga County has had German shepherds and Labrador retrievers for years. In fact, visitors often ask, “Is the big dog out?” — referring to 125-pound Brutus, said Lt. Tom McCaffrey, Brutus’ handler.

Still, Brutus’ intimidating, deep-pitched bark disappears when Midge — her name is short for midget — playfully wrestles with him in the grass outside the old jail. That is where the dogs participate in narcotics training, where Midge watches the German shepherd maneuver through cabinets, heating vents and other spaces in search of marijuana.

To receive state certification, police dogs must pass a test by successfully searching for drugs in several places. Then they can become official K-9s and conduct legal searches. Sheriff McClelland hopes Midge will receive her working papers when she is about a year old.

Sheriff McClelland’s idea of using smaller dogs was reinforced when he returned from a vacation in Canada and saw U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials using beagles to sniff luggage.

The sheriff seems to be part of a trend, as others are training smaller dogs for police uses.

Dogs called Belgian malinois have earned spots on departments in Pennsylvania, Michigan, South Carolina and Ohio after training by Dave Blosser, owner of the private Tri-State Canine Services in Warren, Ohio. The breed can be as small as 40 pounds, and Mr. Blosser compares the dogs favorably with larger breeds.

“Sizewise, endurancewise they last longer,” Mr. Blosser said.

Smaller dogs have other advantages, said Bob Eden, whose Eden Consulting Group trains police dogs and handlers. “Smaller pups can get into smaller and tighter spaces in order to carry out their searches,” Mr. Eden said.

Midge has been a hit in the county jail, where Sheriff McClelland takes her to visit well-behaved inmates. Wearing flip-flops, some of the prisoners laugh when she licks their toes. Others cuddle her close as they talk with the sheriff about missing their own dogs at home.

On visits to school classrooms, Midge gets passed among tiny hands.

Sheriff McClelland offers a lesson: “I tell the kids, ‘Even when you’re small, if you take a stand you can make a difference.’”

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