Facing death row, pit bull becomes police dog

Jasper the pit bull was running out of chances. He arrived at the Prince William County animal shelter about six months ago, an injured stray possibly hit by a car. He recovered and got adopted – twice. Each time, his new owners returned him.

“Unfortunately, he's one of those dogs that's just fantastic, but he's also kind of challenging,” said Jill Gregory, center manager for the Prince William Humane Society, which works with county animal control to pull pets from the shelter and help get them adopted.

Gregory said she went to the shelter for her weekly pull, where a staff member took her aside and told her about Jasper, a pit bull mix who’s about 2 years old.

“She said there’s this dog, he’s been in and out, we think he’s been hit by a car, he’s really high energy,” Gregory said.

She took him to the humane society's facility in Dumfries, where the organization opened a storefront for pet adoptions last year.

There, animal care workers found Jasper intelligent, loyal and driven, particularly when it came to a ball. But he was “extreme high energy” and frustrated.

After an accidental bite with an animal-care worker, it looked like Jasper’s time had run out.

“We were really hoping we’d be able to do more for him, but we ended up having the same issues,” Gregory said. “We were kind of at our wit’s end.”

That’s when Prince William Humane Society president Lori Leary reached out to Nick White, who owns Off-Leash K9 Training. White’s team performed two evaluations with Jasper and saw big potential.

“They said ‘We could do so much with this dog. He could be a police dog,’” Gregory said. “I’m just here thinking he’s an awesome dog, so smart. But in this environment, there’s not much more to do but look cute and hope someone takes them home.”

White contacted the Throw Away Dogs Project, which specializes in “repurposing, training and relocating unique dogs to positively impact our communities.” The Pennsylvania-based nonprofit took Jasper on and trained him to be a drug detection dog.

He and his new handler, Kennard police Deputy Chief Don Crabtree, are learning their new roles together and experiencing a lot of firsts. Jasper is Crabtree’s first police canine, as well as a first for the small town police force. And while Jasper is trained to sniff out cocaine, heroin, meth and ecstasy, he’s still undergoing training for certification in Indiana, where he is believed to be the state’s first pit bull police dog.

“What he’s waiting for is for me to catch up to him,” Crabtree said.

In the meantime, the new partners have already established a strong bond, and Jasper seems to love life with a job to do.

Crabtree admits he didn’t know what to expect when he first met Jasper.

“I didn’t know if I was going to get him home and he was going to wreak havoc,” he said. “I’ve never owned a pit bull, but I wouldn’t trade him in for any other breed. You can look in his eyes and see the love there. We’re definitely bonded. This guy won’t let me do anything alone.”

Jasper has received a big welcome in Kennard, a smaller community with no budget for a drug-detection dog, but – like many communities – struggling with a drug problem. Crabtree is paying Jasper’s expenses out of his own pocket for now.

The newest member of the force has a following on Kennard’s Facebook page, and even his own Instagram account (instagram.com/k9.jasper)

“The number one goal is to make the community safe,” Crabtree said. “The type of place were people can go home and leave the front door unlocked. With the community’s help, we can make that happen. Jasper fits right in to that plan.”

Picture is K9 Jasper with his Narcan overdose kit donated by K9s of Valor