In March, Prince was alone in the desert, surviving the elements and dodging traffic along Interstate 10 west of Buckeye.
Last week, the 2-year-old golden retriever started work as a police drug-detection dog.
With his handler, Youngtown police Sgt. Dave Evans, the pair cruise Youngtown’s commercial corridors along Grand Avenue and older neighborhoods of foreclosed homes that are notorious for illegal drug activity.
Drug-detection K-9s, whose sense of smell is 400-times stronger than a human’s, help officers bust dealers and addicts, taking a matter of minutes to sniff out drugs on a suspect or inside vehicles and homes.
“Every day it’s something new,” Evans said. “There’s never a shortage of activity.”
Prince replaces Cisco, the Youngtown Police Department’s longtime K-9 officer who recently retired after a six-year career.
But Prince’s journey to Youngtown wasn’t an easy one.
It was March, but the conditions were still tough for a stray. The heat and sunlight burned his paws and made every step painful. Prince had no clue when he would come across any food and water.
Eventually, he was taken in by a seemingly loving caretaker.
However, the stray canine’s problems would persist. The caretaker turned out to be an animal hoarder. And it would take several months before someone blew the whistle on her situation — more than 80 dogs and assorted other animals were found on her property — and Prince would be rescued.
When authorities responded, they noted numerous smaller dogs on the property and contacted a small dog rescue. That group contacted Arizona Golden Rescue when they found Prince was also on site.
The dire, unsanitary conditions at the woman’s home often meant Prince went without daily meals. He became emaciated, weighing 52 pounds. He had also developed sarcoptic mange, eye infections and allergies to numerous foods. Rather than displaying a full coat of golden fur, Prince had large, raw patches of skin where he had chewed on himself due to the incessant itching from the mange.
Prince and Evans met after Evans reached out to Daily News-Sun opinion page editor Joy Slagowski, a member of Arizona Golden Rescue. Evans asked the former Youngtown beat reporter if she knew of any golden retrievers available for adoption to replace Cisco, who had developed a mild case of valley fever and some mobility issues and whose career, Evans believed, should be winding down.
Slagowski put Evans in touch with Arizona Golden Rescue president Deb Orwig, who had been fostering Prince while the dog’s multiple medical conditions were addressed for four months, totaling $2,500 in vet care.
“He had to be kept isolated in my laundry room and given medicated baths twice a week,” Orwig recalls of Prince’s condition. “I had to wear a long-sleeved shirt, long pants and rubber gloves when I bathed him and then immediately throw my clothes in the wash and take a shower. I never did contract the mange, nor did my own dogs.”
Prince, who was named because Orwig and other rescue volunteers knew he would become a “prince of a dog,” had bundles of energy and was obsessed with fetching tennis balls. Orwig knew immediately that Prince, “who’s out to please others,” stood out from the pack.
“He’s very curious if things are out of place in a garage or at home,” she said. “Most dogs don’t pick that up that quickly.”
With a strong sense of smell and showing signs of intelligence through various exercises, Evans knew right away he had found the ideal K-9 officer.“He was a very intelligent dog, but had never been on a leash,” Evans said. “He’s aggressive, but is always hungry to do exercises and help in order to receive his reward — a tennis ball.”
After training with Evans over the course of 3½ weeks, Prince passed his certification test, completing 380 hours in training at the police academy. Prince also received certification through the National Narcotic Detector Dog Association, which law enforcement agencies and the private industry use for certification purposes.
Cisco, who will continue making appearances in the community, will retire to Evans’ couch. His retirement party is scheduled for 6 p.m. Sept. 19 at Youngtown Town Hall, 12030 N. Clubhouse Square.
Like Cisco, Prince will also assist regional law enforcement, including the El Mirage and Surprise police departments and Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, in drug searches. Plans are also under way to have him trained to help the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office find missing persons throughout the Valley.
The golden retriever’s day job is not all hard work: He will act as the Youngtown Police Department’s unofficial mascot and visit area elementary schools to teach students about his law enforcement duties.
“He will be a great tool and the face of the department,” Evans said. “We won’t be able to put Prince’s value to the department in words.”
But there is a value in more ways than one.
According to Evans, police departments are allowed to keep drug-seizure money for departmental use, including the purchase of new patrol cars, uniforms, guns and bullets. Cisco, for example, has helped fund several new sports-utility vehicle patrol cars through various drug busts in Youngtown and throughout the Northwest Valley.
Evans said he will make a donation to Arizona Golden Rescue — Prince’s adoption fee is $350 — and continue to be civic-minded toward the organization by attending fund-raising and promotional events. Those interested in donating to the nonprofit to offset Prince’s initial veterinary bills can visit www.arizonagoldenrescue.org for more information.
For the long term, Youngtown has set aside a dedicated fund for Prince for routine or unexpected visits to the veterinarian, said Chief Terry McDonald. The fund will also cover insurance and liability costs for the town.
Zach Colick can be reached at 623-876-2522 or firstname.lastname@example.org.