Dog downsizing: Meet Midge, a 6-pound police K-9 dog

CHARDON, Ohio -- Though she's only a 6-pound Chihuahua-rat terrier mix who looks like she belongs in Paris Hilton's purse, Midge has the will, skill and nose of a 100-pound German shepherd.

The newest recruit for the Geauga County Sheriff Department's K-9 unit could very well be the nation's smallest drug-sniffing pooch.

"Good girl," Sheriff Dan McClelland says, praising the 7-month-old, tail-wagging puppy, during a recent training exercise.

McClelland began training Midge for drug-detecting duties when she was just 3 months old, after reading about departments being sued by suspects whose cars or homes were damaged by larger dogs.

Like many police departments, Geauga County has had German shepherds and Labrador retrievers for years. In fact, visitors often ask, "Is the big dog out?" -- referring to 125-pound Brutus, says Lt. Tom McCaffrey, Brutus' handler.

Still, Brutus' intimidating, deep-pitched bark disappears when Midge -- short for midget -- playfully wrestles with him in the grass outside the old jail. That's where the dogs participate in narcotics training, where Midge watches the bigger dog maneuver through cabinets, heating vents and other spaces in search of marijuana.

Trend toward smaller dogs

Police dogs must pass a test in which they successfully search for drugs in several places to get state certification. Then they can officially become K-9s and conduct legal searches. McClelland hopes Midge will receive her working papers when she is about a year old.

McClelland's idea of using smaller dogs was reinforced when he returned from vacationing in Canada and saw U.S. Customs officials using beagles to sniff luggage.

There are advantages to smaller dogs, says Bob Eden, whose Eden Consulting Group trains police dogs and handlers. "Smaller pups can get into smaller and tighter spaces in order to carry out their searches," Eden says.

On the other hand, dogs that are too small may not be able to get around certain obstacles, Eden says.

As for a Chihuahua-rat terrier like Midge working as a K-9, well, the president of the North American Police Work Dog Association, H.D. Bennett, says he's never heard of a police dog so small it nearly fits in an outstretched palm.

That's not stopping McClelland, who bought Midge from a co-worker's relative and takes her everywhere with him -- she even has a pair of goggles for rides on the sheriff's motorcycle. On a recent day, she was curled in his lap, sporting a black "sheriff" vest over her brown-spotted white fur.

The sheriff says he knew instantly Midge would be good for his police experiment in Geauga County, which is home to about 90,000 people.

"She is very calm. She is not yappy. She likes people a lot, really loves kids," he says as he strokes the dog.

Midge has helped boost the department's relationship with the community. The tiny dog was grand marshal for a Memorial Day parade, wearing an American flag scarf while perched atop a motorcycle.

She has been a hit in the county jail, where McClelland takes her to visit well-behaved inmates. On visits to school classrooms, Midge gets passed among tiny hands. And McClelland offers a lesson:

"I tell the kids, 'Even when you're small, if you take a stand you can make a difference."'