For the first week on the job, the floppy-eared yellow Labrador retriever didn’t have a name, but now it’s official; KU’s “K-9 unit” will be called Phog.
More than 5,000 votes were cast, and the consensus was that the newest officer at the University of Kansas’ Public Safety Office should be named after Phog Allen, KU’s legendary basketball coach.
The almost 2-year-old Lab got tangled on the leash Friday afternoon, trying to go its own way while walking with its new best friend and roommate, Officer John Haller, outside KU’s public safety building.
But little snags like that will disappear once training begins for the pair on Sept.17 with the Kansas Highway Patrol in Topeka.
Phog is the department’s first dog, and he will serve a single purpose: to sniff for bombs and explosive devices during football and basketball games.
“We have been using dogs for decades at athletic events,” said Chris Keary, KU’s chief of police and director of Public Safety.
But those were borrowed dogs. Since about 2001 KU has relied on the assistance of the KHP or Kansas City police to bring a bomb or explosive-detection dog to football and basketball games.
Phog will be the only bomb-sniffing dog in town. The Lawrence Police Department has two police dogs that sniff for drugs and suspect apprehension.
“But neither are trained for bomb sniffing,” said Officer Drew Fennelly, of the Lawrence Police Department.
The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office currently doesn’t have a K-9 unit.
Keary sees having Phog on the force as being proactive. In the Big 12 Conference, KU is now the fourth university to have a bomb-sniffing dog.
“Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia all have their own bomb-sniffing dogs,” Keary said. “That’s why we decided to go that route.”
Keary sought advice from the KHP in finding a dog, and KHP agreed to train Phog and Haller for free.
“The KHP chose the best dog for what we needed it to do,” Keary said. “The fact that it turned out to be a floppy-eared dog gives it a friendlier appearance.”
The department went through a detailed process to select Haller to be the handler.
“It’s like getting a baby, a life change; your family and home situation and the environment have to be ready for it,” Keary said.
Haller said his wife was on board about bringing the big dog into their life, and a bond is already forming between the partners.
“He lies on my feet when he’s tired,” Haller said.
The startup cost to bring a dog onto the team was about $45,000, with about half of the expense being the used Dodge Charger that KU purchased from the KHP. Keary said the vehicle was coming out of service after having traveled 70,000 miles. It’s a K-9 vehicle, complete with a backseat cage for the dog.
Expenses related to veterinarian visits, kenneling and such things as doggy treats will be the department’s responsibility.
“It’s the department’s expense,” Keary said. “As a department, we saved for this.”
Haller will carry a special remote pager that vibrates if the patrol car is getting too warm. The horn will honk and the windows will open. Plus, there is a button that Haller can push to open the back door so the dog can exit.
“I didn’t want to do the program unless we were doing it right,” Keary said.
Phog won’t be attending any home football games until after he completes the six-week training. Even after that, the training will be ongoing every month.
“The dog has to constantly be kept on his abilities to sniff and find,” Keary said.