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Finding things for 'house dog' to do brings new life to animal control officers

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About three years ago, Floyd County Animal Control officer Matt Cordle picked up a stray puppy, speckled in white and brown with one blue eye and one brown, on the side of the road. And it wasn’t long before Gunner found himself a home, along with a particular skill.

At that time the house dog at the department’s old facility on Mathis Road had died and officers were looking for a new companion at the office. And Gunner, a mix breed that’s drawn comparisons to German shorthaired pointers and Catahoula Curs, fit right in.

“He’s just a fun dog,” Cordle said. “He’ll play ball with you until you’re arm falls off.”

Early on, officers began to notice that Gunner always seemed to be looking for something, nose to the floor, scurrying around. Officer Keelan Freeman started hiding treats in the office.

“He started searching like you couldn’t believe,” Cordle said. “He’s very smart.”

So Cordle and Freeman decided to take Gunner to Floyd County Sheriff’s Office deputy Jimmy Allred — the K-9 unit was behind the former animal control facility. Cordle said Allred recognized the dog’s skill and started training Gunner when he had time, having him search and find tennis balls with the scents of various drugs.

“He showed us he could do it,” Freeman said.

Gunner got his official start as drug-detection dog at the Floyd County Prison, after Cordle and Freeman got their pharmaceutical research licenses to legally handle the seized drugs. He’d sniff his way through each of the dorm rooms, aggressively scratching where he smelled drugs. He found marijuana, methamphetamine and cocaine, Cordle said.

The number of times Gunner sniffed out drugs during these prison searches was “crazy high,” he added.

“He wants to work,” Cordle said, adding that anytime he sees his yellow, soft-rubber ball — his reward — he knows it’s time to get down to business, which he had conducted around two to three times a week at the prison.

But with the move to the new Public Animal Welfare Services facility at 99 North Ave. and with officers increasingly busy — the number of visitors each month has nearly tripled to around 1,000 to 1,200 — Gunner has not had as many opportunities as before, as he hasn’t been back to the prison in over a year.

However, he has made himself into a central figure at the facility, for workers and visitors alike.

Freeman said if there were 100 Gunners, they would all be adopted out in no time. It’s a frequent occurrence when visitors come in looking for a dog, they will spot Gunner and say he’s the one, he added.

But Gunner isn’t going anywhere, despite his destruction of countless beds — he sleeps on a blanket in the office overnight now — and persistent demands for attention and activity, including chasing after the red dot of a laser on a temperature gauge up and down the hall.

“He demands you to play with him,” said Freeman, who, on occasion, has taken Gunner home with him where he sleeps in between him and his wife.

For Cordle and Freeman, who have been with the department for 12 years and 16 years respectively, Gunner represented a shift away from the regular.

“Me and him did it to give us new life,” said Cordle, who would like to Gunner get certified as an official K-9 eventually.

Recently, Cordle hid a tennis ball, with a faint smell of marijuana, in a drawer in the office break room. It had been a month since Gunner had done this task, but in around 30 seconds, he found the right drawer and punched his paws rapidly at the handle.

“It’s like riding a bike,” Cordle said.