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Dog retires after 10 years with Pinellas Sheriff's Office

Lion acts like a party animal during a celebration marking his retirement Tuesday at the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office’s Honeywell building in Largo. Lion retired after 10 years of service to the Sheriff’s Office’s narcotics division. During his career, he sniffed out almost 3 tons of drugs.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

Lion acts like a party animal during a celebration marking his retirement Tuesday at the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office’s Honeywell building in Largo. Lion retired after 10 years of service to the Sheriff’s Office’s narcotics division. During his career, he sniffed out almost 3 tons of drugs.

A grizzled, graying lieutenant ended his career as a top dog Tuesday as an excitable, young rookie stepped in to take his place.

Lion retired after 10 years of service to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office's narcotics division. His career was celebrated during a gathering at the Sheriff's Office's Honeywell building in Largo.

Lion's replacement, Watson, was introduced at the festivities.

Lion, a yellow Labrador retriever named for his tan coat, flunked hunting school in Minnesota. But he was the perfect partner for Detective Pat Shea.

"He's very friendly and low-key," Shea said. "But when he goes to work, he's very tenacious about what he's looking for."

Lion, 12, started his training in 1998 and has been working with Shea since 2002.

"One of us likes to go to work in the morning," Shea said.

Lion sniffed out almost 3 tons of drugs and $300,000 in cash during his career, according to the Sheriff's Office.

Shea has hundreds of stories about Lion's busts.

Once, when Lion was taking a bathroom break during a traffic stop, he caught a whiff of something in the air. He sat down by a pickup truck parked nearby, signaling that drugs were present. Shea asked the owner whether he could search his truck.

"We opened up (a) cooler, and it just reeked of marijuana," Shea said. "Lion was using the bathroom, and he was still working."

Shea, a 23-year veteran who has also worked with bomb-sniffing dogs, said trainers work with the dog's prey instincts. Discoveries are rewarded with a plain white towel, which the dogs view as a toy.

Labrador retrievers make good drug-sniffing dogs because they aren't frightening in appearance and don't alarm people, Shea said.

Watson, a 2-year-old black Labrador retriever, has been on the beat since January.

Shea said Watson still has a lot to learn. The pup decimated a play towel in a matter of mere minutes and barked for a reward during Tuesday's celebration. Lion barks only in his sleep.

Lion and Watson live at Shea's home in Clearwater with his wife, Kathy, and Cole, a family dog.

Watson is a couch potato, Kathy Shea said. But both dogs love to go for a dip in the pool, she said.

"Most of the time, they're very active," she said. "There's a calmness about them when they get home, though."

Lion can't jump onto the bed as well as he used to, but he still has a lot of life left, Kathy Shea said. "That's the only hard part for me, watching them grow old," she said.

With a long, successful career behind him, Lion has a retirement package that is one of the best, Shea said. He'll be sitting at home, watching Animal Planet and eating Milk-Bones.

Dog retires after 10 years with Pinellas Sheriff's Office 06/24/08 [Last modified: Thursday, June 26, 2008 5:20pm]
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