A federal dog's life might end when the job does
June 13, 1997
From Chicago Bureau Chief Jeff Flock
CHICAGO (CNN) -- His name is Fuzz, U.S. Customs Service. Working the baggage belts at O'Hare Airport in Chicago, he has sniffed out more than 800 narcotics smugglers in an eight-year government career.
Fuzz is one of about 2,000 dogs who are on the government payroll, dogs, who when they are done finding drugs or patrolling or otherwise serving their country, more likely than not are put to death.
It seems surplus government dogs are like surplus government typewriters or jeeps. When they're no longer useful, they must, by law, be auctioned off. Present law makes it almost impossible for their handlers -- those who know them best -- to own them.
Tony Penna, McHenry County Deputy Sheriff, used to handle dogs in the U.S. military. "If a dog can no longer be employed on the road for narcotics or explosives we put the dog down, because we don't give the dogs up for adoption."
He now works with dogs in local law enforcement partly because he says the federal government treats its dogs worse than, well, dogs.
California Congressman Elton Gallegly has introduced a bill to allow the government to donate its old dogs to their handlers. It has passed the House, now waits for Senate approval.
"For all too long we've had canines that after they've been used by the federal government, they've been declared surplus property like an old tire and it just doesn't make good sense," said Gallegly.
In the meantime, U.S. Customs has been getting around the federal law by using only donated or pound dogs, so Fuzz's handler Jim Nichols will get to keep him when Fuzz retires later this year.
"I've got two daughters at home, one that's desperately wanting him to come home and play. And I want him to come home," said Nichols, a U.S. customs officer.
"He deserves it."
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