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Smokey, the Labrador, will certainly be missed

The dog, trained to sniff out drugs and guns at schools, dies at age 3. Campus police are heartbroken.

By KELLY RYAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 11, 2000


LARGO -- Up until Memorial Day weekend, Smokey was the same friendly, professional public servant he had always been.

But that weekend, Smokey, a 3-year-old black Labrador and campus police officer, suddenly started acting strange. A visit to a veterinarian revealed the worst: Smokey had cancer.

Smokey, who was trained to sniff out drugs and guns, died the last week of May. He leaves behind four other campus police dogs and a team of shocked, mourning K-9 officers.

"It was very hard for me," said campus police Officer Barbara Baugher. "When I had to tell the chief, I couldn't even talk. He's a very sweet, sweet, lovable dog."

Pinellas County has one of the largest school K-9 forces in the state. Sparkey, a bomb-sniffing yellow Labrador, is now the youngest; Smokey had been the youngest drug-sniffing dog.

Smokey came to the force about two years ago from a training facility in Fayetteville, N.C. He cost about $2,000. Even before Smokey died, the department had ordered two new dogs, which are supposed to arrive before school starts in the fall.

Smokey lived with Baugher's family the first year and a half he was in Pinellas. In February, Officer Mark Cotroneo began caring for and handling Smokey. Cotroneo recently came to Pinellas from the Pasco Sheriff's Office, where he was a popular school resource officer known for rapping songs at anti-drug rallies.

Cotroneo was too upset last week to talk about Smokey.

Smokey, who worked every day, was known throughout the county.

Not only did he do random weapons and drug searches, he visited schools from St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs for drug prevention programs. Some students who knew Smokey have sent sympathy cards to campus police, Baugher said.

Campus police dogs have annual check-ups. Because of Smokey's death, the department plans to schedule even more frequent veterinarian visits.

For now, though, Joseph Feraca, the chief of campus police, said his heartbroken officers are concentrating on healing.

"He was a doll, really personality plus," Feraca said of Smokey.

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