Man's New Best Friend

In the wake of September 11, security dogs have become must-have items. Prices have skyrocketed. There aren't enough German shepherds.

Airport bomb dogs are trained to be gentle enough to be around crowds. But since German shepherds have a big bad wolf quality, most kids shy away. Working with a little dog would be a hassle, Robertson says.

"People want to pet the cute little doggies," Robertson says. "Everybody would want to pet Lassie. When you're working a threat, you don't have time to stop and let everybody pet your dog."

In early February, Max worked five school bomb threats in one day. Contracted by the Fort Worth Independent School District, the dog regularly searches lockers, lavatories and student backpacks.

Runt of the litter: Arras is the smallest dog in training.
Deron Neblett
Runt of the litter: Arras is the smallest dog in training.
HPD officer C.T. Bennett drills every day to keep the dog's eyes sharp.
Deron Neblett
HPD officer C.T. Bennett drills every day to keep the dog's eyes sharp.
Max sits when he smells a bomb in the cabinet. If he barked, it could explode.
Max sits when he smells a bomb in the cabinet. If he barked, it could explode.
Max is at his most ferocious when rewarded with a favorite toy.
Max is at his most ferocious when rewarded with a favorite toy.

Max spends his days riding in the back of a dark green van; a stuffed Scooby-Doo sits in the cup holder, and plastic Dr Pepper bottles litter the floor. The van hits six to eight schools every day; Max waits in the car while a blond Lab and a Chesapeake Bay retriever search parking lots for drugs and weapons.

In the travel kennel, Max lies with his face on his paws; he has a please-please-let-me-out look. When he barks and scratches the cage door, his handler drapes a black jacket over the kennel. He sniffs loudly, and the cage shakes.

"He's just bored," says BJR's marketing and development director, Carl Rickert Jr. "That's why he barks. He's in that cage all day long, and he gets sick and tired of it. But you can't let a dog out and let him run, because if someone ran over him, you're losing $12,000 to $18,000 worth of dog."

The only time Max works is when there's a bomb threat. Or when the school district worries that there might be one. Max searches stadiums before track meets, football and basketball games, secures proms and is going to hit all 12 FWISD high school graduations.

In four months with the company, Max has done so well that BJR Security bought three more collies.

"It's too early to tell whether they'll be a staple breed," Allen says. "But right now they offer potential. We see no shortcomings."

Max is on call for two hours after school. His trainer takes him to the park and lets him play. On a sunny Friday afternoon Max is fetching a Frisbee outside the Middle Level Learning Center, an alternative education school in Fort Worth. His herding instinct emerges when he drops the foam Frisbee at the handler's feet, then crouches like he's guarding it and making sure it doesn't move. After he plays, it's time to train.

As soon as he walks into the building, Max strains at his leash. He rears on his hind legs, his back paws slipping and sliding on the linoleum. In a first-floor classroom, he sniffs a teacher's heavy brown desk, file cabinets and the overhead projector. "Find it, Max," his handler commands. She taps on the bookshelves every three inches, guiding Max's search. In the corner by the door, he slows down.

"Where is it, Max?" she asks. "Where is it? Is it there?"

He sits in front of the cabinet where the black powder is hidden. "Good boy," she says and throws him his blue ball.

They play tug-of-war, then she takes him outside, gives him a drink of water and loads him into the kennel. He tries to escape and head back into the school.

"The little guy will just keep going," Rickert says. "He's as good as a shepherd."

Maybe even better.

But the cops still don't want him.

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