The Pasco sheriff's canine unit nabbed more than 130 criminal suspects last year, all while working out of a tiny 8-by-10-foot storage room in New Port Richey.
The room holds dozens of bags of dog food, training equipment and a small computer desk. Sgt. Brian Brosnan, who leads the nine-dog team, jokes that his boss reminds him to close the door when he leaves so visitors don't notice it's "a little cluttered in there."
"A new building has been talked about in the 24 years that I've been around," Brosnan said. "We've always had more pressing needs. And we've been able to survive without it."
Last fall, Skip Miller heard about the close quarters. The banker and Leadership Pasco class president knew he had the perfect idea for this year's service project: a new kennel and training area for the dogs and their owners at the Pasco jail in Land O'Lakes.
Even with the tiny headquarters, Miller said, "They've maintained the most efficient and impressive statistics in the state of Florida. By helping them build a new facility, I think it will improve their efficiency."
The new 1,100-square-foot building will have several advantages. First, the central location will give canine teams a more manageable trip to almost any point in the county. Being right next to the sheriff's helicopter hangar also won't hurt if a team needs to get somewhere in a hurry.
Plans include four short-term kennels so officers can board their dogs when they're out of town. They don't have to impose on family or friends, and trained deputies can care for the dogs each day.
The office will also have a washtub for the dogs, and showers for officers, when they return from a scene a little messier than when they left.
"You don't believe how many times we're in water up to our knees or even further up," Brosnan said. "When you're chasing bad guys, a lot of these guys want to get away to the swamps."
Consider a call this week. Brosnan went with two other canine teams to look for someone deputies thought might have killed himself. He and Rob the German Shepherd — who at age 7 is still a "little ball of fire" — spent more than two hours trekking through J.B. Starkey Wilderness Park looking for the man. Deputies later found him alive and well. A normal day's work for Brosnan.
Besides hunting criminals or detecting drug stashes, the teams also go on search-and-rescue missions, looking for missing elderly people or runaway children.
"That's how good our dogs are," he said. "We locate these kids that are actually trying to flee from us."
Much of the $90,000 cost of the building will come from donated services, though the group must still raise about $35,000 in cash. It has raised about $9,000 so far and has roughly the same amount pledged from other donors. He hopes to collect the balance at the "Taste of Pasco" fundraiser in Hudson on April 30.
Miller has several family members in law enforcement and said he simply wanted to recognize the tough work done by canine teams. Brosnan said he's just touched by the gesture.
"We're deeply humbled that Leadership Pasco took this under their wing," he said.
Lee Logan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6236.