Canine recruiter finds right dog in Wyoming

Apr 23, 2017 By Andrea Novotny, Staff Writer

K9 and service dog recruiter Tim Matthews found one new recruit on his recent trip through Wyoming, which included stops at Casper, Cheyenne, Douglas and Riverton's Paws for Life animal shelter.

Matthews runs the 50-acre South Dakota Canine Center, located Sturgis, South Dakota, where he trains dogs in a variety of specialty fields, from therapy dogs and service dogs for people with disabilities, to bomb detection dogs in police K9 units. One sniffs out bedbugs.

"Two of my last dogs went to the New York Sheriff's Department," he said. "These two dogs, if there's crowds of people, like at the Boston Marathon bombing, they weave through the crowds of people on their own, no handler, and they'll find an element in somebody's backpack and freeze, and they got them. Shelter dogs."

Matthews tested a handful of dogs during his recent visit to Paws, and though some showed promise, none met the rigorous qualifications of Matthews' program. But his visit served another purpose: to share what he looks for with staff and volunteers at Paws so that they will be able to help spot dogs with the necessary drive, focus and temperament when one comes into the shelter, though shelter manager Gina Gladman said Paws would need more volunteers in order to identify dogs that would be a good match for the program.

Matthews regularly travels to shelters in South Dakota, and about once a month, he makes longer trips to surrounding states regionally. Thanks to local spotters in about 200 shelters in 12 states, he has to make these trips a lot less frequently now than when he started the work 12 years ago, and his success rate has gone up too.

But even when one of the recruits that initially showed promise fails out of the program, Matthews' dogs never end up back in shelters -- whether that means finding them homes, or looking harder to find a good fit for them in the working world.

"We're not going to quit. If they've got the drive we'll find them a job."

Once, a black lab named Storm met all of the requirements to be detection dog, but he had bad hips. After exploring different options, Matthews tried hiding elk antlers in a field -- all of which Storm retrieved.

"The next day we had him a job as a shed hunter down in Colorado."

On the same trip that brought Matthews to Paws, he found Ruger at Laramie Peak Humane Society in Douglas.

That doesn't happen very often.

"The dogs I'm looking for are so hard to find," he said. "I look at 2000 dogs before I find one. Not every dog has the talent that we're looking for."

When he arrived at the South Dakota Canine Center, Ruger failed the search and rescue and detection programs, but passed the test to become a service dog.

"We don't know where his strength will be," Matthews said. "He's going to go into a secondary type of training center where he will be matched up with a person who needs a service dog. Since he's a young, athletic strong dog, he could be a mobility dog for somebody who has a balance problem or prosthetic arms or legs."

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