CHARDON, Ohio - Though she's only a 6-pound
(2.7-kilogram) Chihuahua-rat terrier mix who looks like she belongs in Paris
Hilton's purse, Midge, short for midget, has the will, skill and nose
of a 100-pound (45-kilogram) German shepherd.
The newest recruit for the Geauga County Sheriff Department's K-9 unit could
very well be the nation's smallest drug-sniffing pooch.
"Good girl," Sheriff Dan McClelland says, praising the 7-month-old,
tail-wagging puppy, during a recent training exercise.
McClelland began training Midge for drug-detecting duties when she was just 3
months old, after reading about departments being sued by suspects whose cars or
homes were damaged by larger dogs.
Like many police departments, Geauga County has had German shepherds and
Labrador retrievers for years. In fact, visitors often ask, "Is the big dog
out?", referring to 125-pound (56-kilogram) Brutus, says Lt. Tom McCaffrey,
Still, Brutus' intimidating, deep-pitched bark disappears when Midge, her
name is short for midget playfully wrestles with him in the grass outside the
old jail. That's where the dogs participate in narcotics training, where Midge
watches the bigger dog maneuver through cabinets, heating vents and other spaces
in search of marijuana.
Police dogs must pass a test in which they successfully search for drugs in
several places to get state certification. Then they can officially become K-9s
and conduct legal searches. McClelland hopes Midge will receive her working
papers when she is about a year old.
McClelland's idea of using smaller dogs was reinforced when he returned from
vacationing in Canada and saw U.S. Customs officials using beagles to sniff
The sheriff seems to be part of a trend, as others are training smaller dogs
for police uses.
Dogs called Belgian Malinois have earned spots on departments in
Pennsylvania, Michigan, South Carolina and Ohio after training by Dave Blosser,
owner of the private Tri-State Canine Services in Warren, Ohio. The breed can be
as small as 40 pounds (18 kilograms), and Blosser compares the dogs favorably to
"Size wise, endurance wise they last longer," he says.
And there are other advantages to smaller dogs, says Bob Eden, whose Eden
Consulting Group trains police dogs and handlers. "Smaller pups can get into
smaller and tighter spaces in order to carry out their searches," Eden says.
On the other hand, dogs that are too small may not be able to get around
certain obstacles and there could be a credibility problem, Eden says.
"A Jack Russell terrier may make an extremely capable narcotics detection
dog," he says, "yet some agencies would shy away from using such a breed simply
because the dog doesn't have the same respect level from the public as a Lab or
As for a Chihuahua-rat terrier like Midge working as a K-9, well, the
president of the North American Police Work Dog Association, H.D. Bennett, says
he's never heard of a police dog so small it nearly fits in an outstretched
That's not stopping McClelland, who bought Midge from a co-worker's relative
and takes her everywhere with him, she even has a pair of goggles for rides on
the sheriff's motorcycle. On a recent day, she was curled in his lap, sporting a
black "sheriff" vest over her brown-spotted white fur.
The sheriff says he knew instantly Midge would be good for his police
experiment in Geauga County, whose picturesque rolling farm land and
old-fashioned town squares are home to about 90,000 people east of Cleveland.
"She is very calm. She is not yappy. She likes people a lot, really loves
kids," he says as he strokes the dog.
Midge has helped boost the department's relationship with the community. The
tiny dog was grand marshal for a parade for the Memorial Day holiday in May,
wearing an American flag scarf while perched atop a motorcycle.
She has been a hit in the county jail, where McClelland takes her to visit
well-behaved inmates. Wearing flip-flops, some of the prisoners giggle when
Midge licks their toes. Others cuddle her close as they talk with the sheriff
about missing their own dogs at home.
On visits to school classrooms, Midge gets passed among tiny hands. And
McClelland offers a lesson:
"I tell the kids, 'Even when you're small, if you take a stand you can make a