Everyone knows the old saying that you can't teach an old dog new tricks. But it's even harder for dog owners to unteach some of those old tricks. That's what police forces in many states are learning as dogs that have been trained to detect marijuana have become not only unnecessary but a liability too.
That was the case last year in Colorado, where a panel of three judges overruled a conviction for possession of methamphetamine because Kilo - the police dog who sniffed out the contraband - had also been trained to find cannabis, which the state legalized in 2012. Because of that, the judges ruled that Kilo's signal could no longer be taken as reasonable grounds to conduct a police search.
"A dog can't tell you, 'Hey, I smell marijuana' or 'I smell meth,'" Chief Tommy Klein of the Rifle, Colorado Police Department told The New York Times. "They have the same behavior for any drug that they've been trained on."
That's why the Rifle police are retiring one of their own drug-detection canines - a Labrador named Tulo. When he walks off the job for the last time in January, he will be replaced with a new police dog that hasn't been trained to detect marijuana. And this trend is extending beyond just the states that have legalized cannabis for recreational use. Many police departments in states where cannabis remains illegal have stopped training pot-sniffing dogs because they sense that the days of prohibition are numbered.
"I just did a dog for a department in Texas that asked me not to put marijuana on her," said Ron Cloward - owner of Top Dog Police K-9 Training and Consulting in Modesto, California. "They had the feeling there could be some changes coming there, and they wanted to plan ahead."
Early retirement comes with a huge cost
Of course, not all states are employing such proactive measures. Kansas police, for instance, have stated they "are not considering a change" at this time. Meanwhile, smaller police agencies have found that the cost of purchasing a new dog - which can easily top $6,000 - is more than they can afford. Retraining the dogs isn't really an option either, as there would be no way to prove the dog didn't slip up and fall back on old habits.
The Rifle police force was lucky in that a local resident started a crowdfunding campaign to help the department buy their new K9.
"The community really came together and rallied to help us out," said Cpl. Garrett Duncan - Tulo's handler and partner.
Luckily there is life after retirement for police dogs. Despite the claims from a certain Illinois police dog trainer that canines taught to detect marijuana would have to be "euthanized," police dogs usually live with their handlers as pets after retirement.
"They're our kids," said Officer Laas, a handler with the Arvada police department in Colorado. "When they're done working, we're going to make sure they're really well taken care of."
However, Duncan says that dogs like Tulo aren't always ready to give up their old beat so easily.
"He's been in a cop car since he was a few months old, and he really likes the job," Corporal Duncan said. "He's going to be a bit frustrated about being left at home."
You might not be able to change an old drug detection dog's stance on marijuana, but it does look like many police departments are catching up with the times.