- Associated Press - Sunday, May 3, 2015

THE WOODLANDS, Texas (AP) - From the day the squirming puppy first cracked open her eyes, her future looked grim.

The dark brown-brindle pup - named Libby - was orphaned and abandoned with the rest of her litter shortly after birth at the Montgomery County animal shelter. She had all the markings of a pit-bull mix which made her hard to place for adoption since some critics blame this breed type for a disproportionate share of serious dog bites.

So Libby and her siblings soon found themselves posted on the shelter’s weekly list of those to be euthanized.

Yet somehow, against all odds, Libby became the only one from her litter to escape her date with death. She is now about to take her place in the elite world of police dogs, a job usually reserved for purebreds from European stock shipped to the United States with price tags in the thousands of dollars.

Libby’s story begins when she and her siblings were dumped at the animal shelter in Conroe in 2011. She was a mutt straight off the streets and not a blue-blood by any stretch, but her playful nature caught the attention of Marcia Poitter, who heads the rescue group, Operation Pets Alive in The Woodlands.

“Everybody liked to watch her play with the water hose, chasing and pouncing on any liquid that came out,” Poitter told the Houston Chronicle (https://bit.ly/1HPxGXo). “Libby was a little different from the dogs that I normally pick for rescue. She was more exuberant and played hard. I would call her high energy.”

At the same time, Poitter also knew that it could be difficult to find this dog a “forever home” because “a lot of people don’t believe this type breed makes a good family pet.”

After being rescued, Libby languished in foster care for nearly three years as Poitter searched for a placement for her.

Libby was rejected for the program that transports rescue dogs to shelters in the northeast with a 99 percent save rate because those shelters look for passive, gentle pets who aren’t as active as Libby, Poitter said.

Despite her keen intelligence and inquisitiveness, the pit-bull mix was passed over countless more times when put on display for adoption at pet stores and area businesses.

At one point, Poitter was hopeful they’d found a perfect match with an individual who uses energetic dogs for Frisbee competitions. “But then that person decided they weren’t quite ready for a new recruit,” she said.

There was only one thing for which Libby had found success: entertaining children by demonstrating how easily she could find a hidden tennis ball. She could easily sniff out balls hidden amid thousands of items that lined the aisles of a store.

Her ball obsession was what finally gave Debra Guajardo, a Woodlands attorney who likes to help rescue dog groups, an idea about Libby’s true calling.

“She didn’t show well at adoption events because she’d bark, jump and be active. But the same traits that make a bad house pet can make a good working dog,” said Guajardo, who has a pet pit bull, named Lily, who she says specializes in “napping” and makes an excellent therapy dog.

Libby, on the other hand, goes full speed until she crashes. She cannot be distracted when she hunts for tennis balls like a “kid at a candy store,” and so Guajardo reasoned those same skills might make her equally adept as a police dog searching for contraband.

So Guajardo contacted Brad Croft at Universal K9 in San Antonio - the only police dog training facility that she could find that worked with shelter dogs as well as purebreds like Belgian Malinois and Dutch Shepherds from Europe.

“Typically dogs imported form the Czech Republic, Germany and Holland can cost from $10,000 to $15,000 each when groomed and trained,” Croft said.

But shelter dogs can be found with the same talents and instincts as these purebreds and are a much cheaper solution, he said.

In the last three years, Croft has trained hundreds of police dogs - both mutts and purebreds - and sees no difference between them.

He describes Libby as one of the top 15 dogs he’s trained, likening her to a “rock star” for her performance sniffing out narcotics.

She’s been taught to identify the scent of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, ecstasy and methamphetamines.

“She’s one in a million, like winning the lottery,” he said.

He knew she’d be a good candidate when he viewed a film of Libby finding a ball hidden in tall grass when it was dark, raining and an emergency vehicle with a loud siren roared past.

“Another dog would have freaked out and run,” he said. “But she stays focused until the job is done.”

Guajardo is covering the $1,500 cost for Libby’s handler, Jesse Bullinger, a deputy with the Precinct 4 Montgomery County constable, to attend training for two weeks in San Antonio with the dog, who’ll become his partner. At the end, the team’s proficiency in finding the drugs must be certified not only by Croft’s agency but also a national police organization.

Then this one-time mutt will be honored officially as a peace officer with her own badge and her name painted on the patrol car. And she won’t have cost the department a dime.

“I’m a dog lover,” said Bullinger’s boss, Capt. Mark Seals. “Any time we can save an animal at a shelter and let him make a contribution to law enforcement, I’m all for it.”

Poitter was thrilled by the happy ending to Libby’s dog tale: “So many other shelter dogs are passed over. It’s so easy to give up on them.”

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Information from: Houston Chronicle, https://www.houstonchronicle.com

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