The story about Amy Halm and Dargo is really two stories.
The simple story is how, once Halm brought Dargo, a Belgian Malinois, to Ahwatukee Foothills after adopting him from a Texas facility that trains military and police dogs, she realized that he was a precision instrument.
“He’s a working dog, and he needed a job,” Halm said.
Out of that, Desert Drug Dogs was born, after Halm learned that 5-year-old Dargo still had the training and instinct to seek out drugs with his sensitive nose.
“I think I have an obligation to use this dogs’ skills,” Halm said.
The two have been certified as a narcotics seeking team and train every month or so with trainers who are Drug Enforcement Agency-certified. That allows them to have real drugs, so that Dargo can stay in top form when it comes to sniffing out and discovering narcotics.
At $150 an hour, Halm, who has no affiliation with law enforcement, will bring Dargo for a confidential search of a home, school, business or even a used car before purchase. If Dargo “hits” on a scent, Halm will leave a sticky note to mark the spot and then moves on with Dargo.
She will leave behind a list of resources and referrals for substance abuse help. But in the end, it’s up to the family, business or individual to decide how they want to proceed.
“What I’m providing, to an H.R. manager or a family, is data,” Halm said.
Sgt. Brent Crump of the Phoenix Police Department is a former K-9 supervisor, and while he won’t endorse one business over another, he says that a private drug sniffing dog fills a need.
Crump said that if a police officer and a K-9 were to suspect drugs, an investigation and possible arrest would have to take place. Authorities, he said, just couldn’t walk away to let parents handle the situation.
But if a private sector dog suspects something, a softer approach can be used.
“Having (drug) dogs in the private sector is not unusual,” Crump said. “It does exist, and it can be done legitimately.”
For Halm, who has seen the carnage left behind by drugs, she and Dargo are on a mission to save lives.
“This is a war, and it starts in the home, and it will be won in the home,” Halm said. “I don’t know many families that haven’t been touched by drugs.”
But there is more to the story.
Dargo was a certified narcotics dog working in Indiana, but he would often get distracted while working scenes near heavy traffic. The problems mounted until the agency asked for a replacement, basically sidelining Dargo at the K9 Global Training Academy in San Antonio.
About the same time Halm’s dog died, and she contemplated adopting a military K-9 that had seen action in Iraq or Afghanistan. After a lengthy selection process she was introduced to two dogs, but was unsure if post traumatic stress could lead the dogs to become suddenly aggressive.
“I live in a very kid and dog intensive neighborhood,” section of Ahwatukee Foothills, Halm said.
That’s when Global Training Academy staff suggested Dargo.
She wanted a good watch dog, and she got much more.
Now, even when getting up from her home office for more tea, Dargo will follow, on her left, from room to room as he looks and watches.
“He’s always there,” Halm said.