Fits in your pocket, and fights crime

Midge weighs only 6 pounds, but an Ohio sheriff says his tiny officer has what it takes to sniff out drug offenders.

Published August 2, 2006

CHARDON, Ohio - Though she's only a 6-pound Chihuahua-rat terrier mix who looks like she belongs in Paris Hilton's purse, Midge has the will, skill and nose of a 100-pound German shepherd.

The newest recruit for the Geauga County Sheriff Department's canine unit could very well be the nation's smallest drug-sniffing pooch.

"Good girl," Sheriff Dan McClelland says, praising the 7-month-old, tail-wagging puppy, during a recent training exercise.

McClelland began training Midge for drug-detecting duties when she was 3 months old, after reading about departments being sued by suspects whose cars or homes were damaged by larger dogs.

Like many law enforcement agencies, Geauga County has had German shepherds and Labrador retrievers for years. In fact, visitors often ask, "Is the big dog out?" - referring to 125-pound Brutus, says Lt. Tom McCaffrey, Brutus' handler.

Still, Brutus' intimidating bark disappears when Midge playfully wrestles with him in the grass outside the old jail. That's where the dogs participate in narcotics training, where Midge watches the bigger dog maneuver through cabinets, vents and other spaces in search of marijuana.

Police dogs must pass a test in which they successfully search for drugs in several places to get state certification. Then they can conduct legal searches. McClelland says he hopes Midge will receive her working papers when she is about a year old.

McClelland said his idea of using smaller dogs was reinforced when he returned from vacationing in Canada and saw customs officials using beagles to sniff luggage.

The sheriff is part of a trend, as others are training smaller dogs for police uses.

In fact, there are advantages to using smaller dogs, says Bob Eden, whose Eden Consulting Group trains police dogs and handlers. "Smaller pups can get into smaller and tighter spaces in order to carry out their searches," Eden said.

As for a Chihuahua-rat terrier like Midge, well, the president of the North American Police Work Dog Association, H.D. Bennett, said he's never heard of a police dog so small it nearly fits in an outstretched palm.

That's not stopping McClelland, who bought Midge from a co-worker's relative and takes her everywhere with him - she even has a pair of goggles for rides on his motorcycle.

Midge has helped boost the department's relationship with the community. She has been a hit in the county jail, where McClelland takes her to visit well-behaved inmates.

On visits to school classrooms, Midge gets passed among tiny hands. And McClelland offers a lesson:

"I tell the kids, 'Even when you're small, if you take a stand, you can make a difference.' "