TAMPA — Three years ago, after she was diagnosed with bone cancer, 21-year-old Alyson Degnan bought a puppy for her fiance. Her one wish was that Max the German shepherd might someday be trained to serve the community.
Degnan died a few weeks later, but her wish has finally come true.
In front of a battery of television cameras, Max made his debut Thursday as a member of the Tampa Police Department's narcotics squad, showing reporters his prowess in sniffing out a kilo of cocaine hidden in a police hangar near Tampa International Airport.
He did it all as Degnan's fiance, Luis Santana, 26, looked on. "She really wanted him to do a job where he would help people," he said. "I know she'd be very happy."
Max joins an English springer spaniel named Bo, who also showed off in front of the cameras, as the newest members of TPD's 20-dog-strong canine force. A family purchased Bo as a pet, but decided he was too rambunctious and gave him away. An English springer spaniel rescue group donated him to the police.
While it's more typical to see dogs like shepherds in K-9 units, Bo's energy and curiosity work well in his new job, said police spokeswoman Andrea Davis. Both dogs are trained to sniff out drugs.
Santana, a photographer for tbt*/Tampa Bay Times, published by the St. Petersburg Times, smiled widely as Master Patrol Officer Kevin Doan rewarded Max with his favorite chew toy after he pinpointed a kilo of cocaine and a stash of marijuana hidden in the police hangar.
Max has been on the job now for about a month after undergoing training for most of the winter. If all goes well, he could be on the force for the next decade.
His job is an important one within TPD: The work of police K-9s led to the arrests of nearly 100 suspects last year, according to the department. And in the few short months since Santana donated him to the police, Max is already making a difference; on one of his first days on the job, he sniffed out 100 grams of marijuana.
"It's a great opportunity for the Tampa Police Department," Doan said, "and for the family, too — to see (Degnan's) dream still alive."
Doan turned to Santana after Max showed off his talents in front of the TV cameras. "Luis, did he make you proud?" he asked.
"He always makes me proud," Santana said.
Reach Thomas Kaplan at (813) 226-3404 or firstname.lastname@example.org.