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Attorney’s donation brings young, skilled K9 to sheriff’s drug team

Summit County Sheriff’s Detective Keith Gowens and Summit County Sheriff Drew Alexander with Gowens’s K9 yellow Labrador Retriever dog “Lou” at his swearing in to office as the newest drug enforcement dog July 12. Legal News Photo by Ashley C. Heeney

The Summit County Sheriff’s newest K9: a yellow Labrador Retriever dog “Lou,” who is working in drug enforcement. Legal News Photo by Ashley C. Heeney

Legal News Reporter

Published: July 19, 2011

There’s a new dog on the streets and his cute looks shouldn’t fool anyone.

“Lou” (aka “Cotton”) is the Summit County Sheriff’s newest K9 dog, capable of stepping up as law enforcement when commanded by his handler, Detective Keith Gowens.

The detective had already taken his new pup on assignment to FedEx in Green on the Tuesday morning before Sheriff Drew Alexander officially swore in Lou to service.

The 2 year-old yellow Labrador Retriever was brought to the sheriff’s office with the financial help of Attorney George Farris and is the newest member of the Summit County Drug Unit, specializing in illegal narcotics interdiction.

At work, the pup was going to be called “Oxy” (as a reference, combined with “Cotton” to the prescription drug Oxycontin commonly abused on the street) but Farris suggested he be named “Lou” after his own brother, Lou Farris. Alexander said it stems from the fact that every time George meets someone new, he is asked about his brother Lou, an area commercial realtor.

The new dog, who replaces Gowen’s retiring Black Labrador “Coco,” is a welcome addition to the other active K9 dogs at the sheriff’s office.

There are six total--a drop from 13 dogs because of budget cuts-- according to Alexander.

Three of the dogs, including Lou, work as drug enforcement administration officers. Two work in the bomb unit, and one is a cross trainer who tracks and does drug enforcement.

While the Labradors do sniffs of drugs and bombs, the department handles German Shepherds to do patrol, Alexander said.

All of the dogs provide officer protection.

As a DEA officer, Lou is specifically responsible for searches six days a week at the Akron-Canton airport, FedEx, the bus station, hotels and anywhere else where packages are sent and received through a delivery system. He can also sense the smell of cash.

In training, the pup detected $300,000 in cash money.

What a K9 dog can be trained to do, or what any dog can do, is immeasurable.

“We haven’t even begun to explore what they can do,” Alexander said of the potential of dogs in general.

“Say there is beef stew cooking in a kitchen. You and I smell the beef stew, but he smells the carrots and everything. His sense of smell breaks all of that down. So in drug deals, he can break through the layers without seeing it.

“Medical people are just starting to realize they can be trained to detect cancer.”

“When people have drugs, they mask it,” Gowens added. “Dogs can smell through those odors when we can’t.”

Their sense is extraordinary compared to other animals.

“Dogs have an olfactory sense of 220 million,” he said. “Humans have an olfactory sense of 5 million.”

Coco, now 10, was responsible for sniffing out a half million dollars in narcotics seizures at the airport, Gowens said.

Training for the dogs is done within the sheriff’s department.

“If we had to send him out or get a full trained dog, it would be $5,000 to $6,000,” Alexander said.

Officers have to go through training too – a mandated four hours a week and state certification renewal through Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy every two years.

Lou is the third dog Gowens has trained with and handled. His first was a German Shepherd.

Typically, the K9 dogs, according to Alexander, work for a total of seven years.

But now they can expect longer because they’re getting healthier dogs. Alexander said he expects a good career out of the new dog, who comes from Kerrybrook Kennels in Cleveland, Ohio, where the sheriff’s office got one other dog. Akron Police has also purchased K9 dogs there.

Alexander, who started his career with the Akron Police, said there was a time when dogs started to lose popularity of use in law enforcement. “When they made a comeback, we wanted a passive dog,” he said, emphasizing that the character of a dog counts because they are part of the full time staff.

The sheriff said he plans to continue to purchase dogs from Kerrybook because of the breeder’s good bloodline. Lou, for one, is laid back but has drive and personality.

When he’s not working, the new pup is at home with Gowens, his family and Coco where’s allowed a little fun playing tug and with tennis balls.