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A second leash on life

Milwaukie acquires new drug detection dog, Shaka, a pit bull who was saved from euthanasia
by: RAYMOND RENDLEMAN Officer Billy Wells is handler for Shaka, the Milwaukie Police Department's new drug detection dog.

Just five years ago, Shaka wasn't content to wait on a New York pound's death row, and her natural love of playing fetch caught the eye of a pit-bull advocate and catapulted her to eventual stardom among Milwaukie police as the force's best new tool for tracking down drugs.

Since her original owner abandoned her without a trace, no one is sure whether Shaka is five and a half or six years old. Shaka is not the only American Staffordshire Terrier-type pit bull who has demonstrated a tracking ability, but her skill is without peer nationally.

Out of the 20 times that Shaka has been deployed in her first few months at MPD, she's found drugs in 18 cases. Officer Billy Wells certified Shaka through the Oregon Police Canine Association, based in Oregon City, but it might be more accurate to say that Shaka got her handler state certification in scoring 100 precent.

'She pretty much walked me through it, because she's a four-year veteran with a phenomenal nose,' Wells said.

Last year, Shaka's future was again put in doubt after budget cuts slashed her position on the Washougal Police Department in Washington. Having handled a bomb-detecting dog for TriMet and the Transportation Security Administration, Wells jumped at the opportunity to adopt Shaka.

Assisting the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office for the first time on a traffic stop in Oak Grove, Shaka didn't stop looking when she found marijuana hidden under the center console between the two front seats. She then jumped into the truck to alert officers to hidden LSD packaged for sale and a well-used pipe tucked in the car's back- seat cushions.

Wells is careful to survey any potential search area for hazards like broken glass or open containers of cocaine, which he fears Shaka could snort in non-lethal quantities.

'She's the type of dog who really wants to put her nose to it, not because she's a drug addict, but because she really likes chewing on a hydraulic rubber hose as a reward for pointing to her targets,' he said.

So far, Wells' precautions have avoided any incident, and the heavy-duty hose is the result of Shaka's tendency to destroy any other toy. His biggest concern was that Shaka would get overheated in her excitement to find drugs on hot days during the summer.

So the Milwaukie Public Safety Foundation granted his request for Shaka's $140 cooling vest that has little pockets to accommodate ice packs. As local officials finalized the city's next budget this month, they were pleased that Shaka only requires $40 worth of food, supplements and ringworm medication each month.

'I'm really excited to see that new pit bull as a member of our team, and the price was a smoking-hot deal since we got the dog fully trained,' said Mayor Jeremy Ferguson.

Fast Facts

• Third annual 9K for K9 Walk

• Saturday, July 23

• Registration begins 9 a.m. at Dogwood Park, near the intersection of Main and Adams streets for the biggest annual fundraiser benefitting Milwaukie's police dogs Jag and Shaka. The second and third 3K legs begin registration at 10 and 11 a.m. Fee of $30 ($25 preregistration) includes water bottle, event T-shirt and reflective dog leash with padded handle.