A yellow Labrador puppy abandoned at an animal shelter in Austin, Texas, was scheduled to be put down late last year when staff members noticed something about him that gave him a second chance: an excellent nose for sniffing out trouble.
Thinking that Luke, then less than a year old, might make a good police dog, a shelter employee alerted Universal K9, an agency that trains shelter dogs to become K9 cops, and the purebred pup was given a reprieve.
At the same time, Joel Fields, a police officer in Bel-Ridge, Missouri, Pop. 2,724, was hoping to adopt a police dog for a department that hadn’t had one in more than 20 years.
“I work in a high crime, low-income area near St. Louis that is constantly seeing drug-related crimes,” Fields, 36, tells PEOPLE, “but I didn’t want a ‘bite’ dog. I wanted a ‘community’ dog that could not only sniff out drugs, but be around kids and help with programs at schools.”
After Universal K9 volunteers matched him with Luke, Fields went to Texas to be trained as a handler and was introduced to his new partner in crime.
“As soon as they opened the door of his kennel and he saw me and started wagging his tail, I knew we’d be close,” he says. “Our first night in the hotel together, I gave him a bath and took him out for a walk and we formed a unique bond. I couldn’t wait to put him to work.”
Saving Luke from being euthanized has not only paid off on an emotional level, but in drug busts as well. Although the canine crimefighter has been on the job less than two months, he’s already cracked several major drug busts — nearly a dozen in all.
“He has a great nose,” says Fields, who rewards Luke with play time whenever he successfully sniffs out marijuana, heroin and other narcotics. “When he detects something, he’s very focused and determined. I don’t think I could have found a better dog for this kind of work.”
Fields believes that Luke was dropped off at the Austin shelter as a pup by a breeder because of his small size.
“He’s not a normal-sized lab and perhaps that’s why he was rejected,” he says. “But size doesn’t matter for a narcotics dog. It’s the nose that counts, and he’s more than proven he’s up to the task.”
During off-hours, as Fields watches Luke frolic at home with his two other dogs, and his 7-year-old son, Mason, “I feel so grateful that his life was saved and that he was given a second chance,” he tells PEOPLE. “He’s devoted and smart and there isn’t a ball out there that he can’t catch. It’s a real joy to have him in my life.”