(Nick) Works as a K-9
By Linda Wilson
Fuoco, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 13, 2006
Labs rule, at least in the world of purebred dogs. For the 16th
consecutive year, Labrador retrievers are the top dog on the American Kennel
Club's list of registrations. An astounding 137,867 Labs were registered in
To show how popular Labrador retrievers are, look at the
statistics for the No. 2 golden retriever, which had 48,509 AKC
registrations in 2005. It doesn't take guesswork to figure out why
those bred-to-hunt dogs are popular pets. They are smart, sweet and loving
with people and other dogs. People see beautiful Labs and goldens
"everywhere," so they buy one.
Both breeds are victims of their own
popularity. They're really not for everyone. They are big and boisterous and
they generally don't calm down until they are 3 or 4 years old. In the hands
of inexperienced owners who can't train and socialize the dogs, they can be
unpleasant pets. They are notorious for pulling on leashes when walked. In
their glee at greeting people, they jump on them─a nightmare for the
small and young, old and frail, or those afraid of dogs.
rescue groups are swamped with Labrador and golden retrievers, especially
males 12 to 18 months old. Shelters and rescues are inundated with
retrievers turned in by owners who said the dogs "got too big" and became
"impossible" to handle.
That's what happened in September with a
1-year-old golden retriever named Snoopy. He was turned in to
Retriever Rescue Inc. in DuBois, Clearfield County. "Snoopy was so
exuberant he was bouncing off the walls," Chris Kougher said. He had
no manners, no training and he wasn't housebroken.
The group, founded
in 1997, rescues 40 to 80 golden retrievers a year. About 20 volunteers open
their hearts and homes to dogs whose owners are unwilling or unable to care
for them. Volunteers, including Mrs. Kougher, provide foster homes until
permanent homes can be found.
But Snoopy was a special case.
"Snoopy was nuts. No one could handle him for more than a day or two. He
quickly went through three foster homes. Everyone's pets were afraid of him,
though he wasn't aggressive. He was just too friendly," Mrs. Kougher said. Though she has fostered 70 or 80 goldens in the last eight years, she
couldn't take this dog. The problem wasn't her husband, her college-aged
children or the family's four goldens. The problem was Snoopy required
full-time supervision, and the Koughers both have full-time jobs.
rescue group raised $500 to send Snoopy to a professional trainer for two
weeks. He came back a changed dog. But after two days, the foster family
said Snoopy was out of control again. Keystone volunteers were at the
end of their rope. And then out of the blue came a most unexpected phone
The K-9 trainers for the West Virginia Division of Corrections
had seen Snoopy on the Keystone Web site, and they were interested in him. One might wonder why anyone would be interested in an overly frisky dog
that only a professional trainer could handle. Professional trainers,
people who compete successfully in obedience and agility competitions and
police and corrections department K-9 trainers are generally looking for
high-energy dogs. They've found that high-energy dogs often enjoy training
and full-time work.
A team of trainers traveled to DuBois to see
Snoopy in action. For four hours they worked with him, and they took him to
a football stadium where they watched the dog endlessly run up and down the
bleachers. They loved what they saw. "They said they would try
him, but they couldn't make any promises. I gave that lovable dog kisses,
said goodbye and told him to make us proud," Mrs. Kougher said.
corrections people renamed him Nick and put him through a rigorous 13-week
training program. On Feb. 15, he graduated with flying colors. Mrs. Kougher
and several Keystone volunteers attended the ceremony, proud as any parent.
Nick and Cpl. Erin Renzelli work at the Pruntytown Correctional Center in
Grafton, W.Va. Nick is a drug detection dog, and he's very good at it. He does regular drug sweeps at the prison, and Nick and Erin have been
called to do school searches, too. You can see Nick's picture on the
rescue group Web site -- www.kgrrescue.com -- by clicking on
endings." The site always has pictures of golden retrievers in need of
what rescue people call "forever homes."
Though DuBois is about a
two-hour drive from Pittsburgh, the Keystone volunteers have taken in many
dogs from the Pittsburgh area, and they've found a lot of forever homes,