New CMS drug dog has ‘happy tail’ but serious mission

Gage the CMS drug dog is ready for school

Charlotte-Mecklenburg superintendent says high school students encouraged drug searches.
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Charlotte-Mecklenburg superintendent says high school students encouraged drug searches.

The friendly yellow lab who will be trotting through high schools this year has a serious mission: Sniffing out drugs.

Gage was “hired” for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Police Department in the middle of last school year – at the request of students concerned about drugs “not just in schools but also in our communities,” according to Superintendent Ann Clark. The district budgeted about $20,000 to buy, train and care for him.

CMS had 534 incidents of drug possession on school grounds in 2014-15, the most recent year for which state tallies are available.

Alas, Gage was promptly sidelined by “happy tail syndrome.” That’s an affliction of large dogs whose enthusiastic wagging and obliviousness to nearby obstacles leaves their tails split and bleeding.

After tail-bob surgery, Gage and his partner, Officer Robin Cooper, started patrols last spring. They’ll be a regular presence in high schools – and middle schools, if requested – after classes start Aug. 29.

When the duo met the media Wednesday at a back-to-school news conference, Gage’s persona was more frat boy than tough cop. He wagged his stubby tail, made puppy eyes and stuck his nose up a news anchor’s skirt.

CMS Police Chief Randy Hagler says Gage isn’t supposed to be intimidating. The 2-year-old dog, who is certified to detect marijuana, cocaine, meth, heroin and ecstasy, won’t have direct contact with students. He can sniff cars and lockers when no one’s around, and for random classroom checks the students step out while Gage makes the rounds.

Last year most of Gage’s patrols failed to turn up drugs, Hagler said, but that’s OK. His presence is intended to send a message: Don’t bring drugs to school.

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms