JUNCTION CITY, Kan. (WIBW) -- The first thing you notice when you see 'Nova' is her beaming smile. It's hard to look into that face and not want to smile right back.
But, when the Geary Co. Sheriff's Office's newest member first arrived at the Junction City-Geary Co. Animal Shelter, that infectious grin was a little harder to see. She had a very deep wound on top of muzzle and wounds all of the way around it.
The staff there believe her mouth must have been bound with rope or wire or something else. No matter what it was, it left a large scar that the Sheriff's Office says now represents "the life she left behind, perhaps even escaped from"
"It's hard to eat when you have your mouth tied shut"
At 27 lbs., Nova tipped the scales at less than half of what you'd normally expect a year-old German shepherd to weigh when she arrived the shelter. That was one of the first things veterinarians aimed to fix.
“We didn’t even have her on the adoption floor,” Vanessa Gray, director of the local shelter said, “We were just trying to get her weight up.”
"It's hard to eat when you have your mouth tied shut," K-9 Handler Sgt. Chris Ricard added.
Coincidentally, while Nova was getting treated, the Geary Co. Sheriff's Office was thinking about getting a new K-9 that was trained to detect drugs. They also decided to try to get the dog from a local shelter.
“We thought we could provide a tool for the county that somebody discarded and it was at no cost to the taxpayers,” Nova's handler Lt. Justin Stopper said. An anonymous and generous donor picked up the tab for Nova's veterinary care.
So, there Nova was, waiting at the shelter, when Det. Bradley Rose, Sgt. Ricard, and Lt. Stopper stopped in to find their newest recruit.
Rose already had a history of handling and training dogs when he served at other law enforcement agencies and Ricard had 19 weeks of K-9 training under his belt, so they knew what to do when they tapped Nova for her new career. As soon as she got better, Nova was ready to team up with her new partner and see if she had what it takes.
“I just went and got her from the kennel and had her ride around with me to see how she was,” Stopper said, taking her back to the shelter after each outing. “For what happened to her I’m surprised. She’s never really been timid.”
It was around Thanksgiving when Stopper knew, he found his new partner and Nova left the shelter for the last time. Before her first day, though, she still needed to be certified. They worked on her so-called hunt drive – tossing toys and scented bags, to see if she would find them. Then, they showed her how to indicate when she smells one of the odors she was trained to detect. However, when she finds something, she doesn’t start barking or scratching, she simply sits down.
“I think most of it was training me. She’s going to do what she does. I had to learn how to read her and watch her,” Stopper said.
Nova’s scarred nose can sniffs out more than just drugs. She’s also trained in situations like trying to track down lost children.
“There’s more circumstances where you could utilize her (Nova) in tracking than, let’s say a patrol dog,” Stopper said. “I don’t have any fear or her biting someone at the end of a track.”
“It was very rewarding for me personally.”
The big day came last Tuesday. On March 19th, less than six months after she arrived at the animal shelter abandoned, frail, and badly wounded, Nova was ready to don her (metaphorical) cap and gown and got her certification in narcotics detection and tracking through the Heart of America Police Dog Association. We’ll probably never know how nervous she was at the moment, but at least one person was. Stopper said he knew Nova was ready, he just wasn’t sure how well they’d work together for the testing.
“It was very rewarding for me personally,” Stopper said of the whole experience.
When it was all over, Stopper and the Sheriff’s Office weren’t the only ones excited. Gray and the staff at the shelter were “over the moon” with her achievement.
The Sheriff’s Office capped it off, saying, “While Nova’s dark past will never be known, one thing seems certain; this Nova’s future seems bright.”
Bright as a super Nova!