Police dog Zara checks a vehicle for drugs.
In just over one year of work with Marbella’s Local Police force, they have worked on more than 300 cases of possession of drugs, carried out demonstrations of their work at schools and arrested four people. That may not sound unusual, but Zara and Lucky are not normal police officers. When they go on patrol they do so on four paws instead of two feet and under the supervision of their owner and guide, José Antonio Luque, who has been a member of the Local Police force for ten years. This dog lover proposed to Marbella council that the police force should have a canine squad again, and that if they would pay the liability insurance for the dogs, he would take care of everything else. Since then, he hasn’t looked back.
Lucky and Zara were the first dogs to join the squad. Lucky is a large German Shepherd and Zara is a smaller Belgian Shepherd. “I wanted a smaller dog, in case children are present when we are carrying out checks; she looks less frightening”, explains José Antonio Luque. He was the first of 40 officers in Spain to receive special training in working with drug-detecting dogs.
Zara and Lucky are very highly trained. As well as learning to detect the drugs, they need to be obedient and able to adapt to different situations, such as walking on different types of surface, going up and down staircases and getting in and out of cars. “Imagine what it would look like if a police dog refused to get into a car to check it for drugs!” laughs José Antonio.
He also insists that, contrary to many people’s beliefs, the dogs are never given drugs in order to learn to detect them. “We train the dogs by giving them affection and a reward when they find something”, he explains. “That is the key. They think detecting drugs is a game. When they succeed, I give them a ball or a rubber chewstick to play with. That is the reward they want”.
As well as detecting drugs, Lucky and Zara have been trained to indicate where those drugs are. For example, if someone is carrying drugs in their pocket, the dogs will put their noses there; if the substance is in a sock, they will lie down by the person’s foot, and if the drugs are being carried on the upper part of the body, the dogs will stand on their hind legs.
Unsurprisingly, Lucky and Zara are popular visitors at local schools, where José Antonio explains their work to the pupils and then demonstrates their skills. “The children love them. They even ask for their autographs!”, he says. The dogs’ appeal to youngsters is obvious. One man, accompanied by a small boy, approached José Antonio at the fair this year to say that they had come back especially to see if the dogs were there. The little lad had seen them the evening before and hadn’t slept all night because he so longed to stroke them. His wish came true: he not only made a fuss of the dogs, but had his photo taken with them.
The dogs’ work is often appreciated by parents too, even those whose child has been caught carrying drugs by the dogs. “The parents often tell me they had no idea that their children were involved with drugs and that they are grateful to have found out. I don’t know if it will stop the youngsters taking drugs in the future, but it is a good start”, says José Antonio.
The school visits are a pleasant aspect of the working life of this police officer, but his entire lifestyle seems to revolve around dogs. As well as Zara and Lucky, he has another 20 and he walks them, feeds them and cleans the area where they are kept every day. “Dogs are my passion”, he says. “I often tell my wife that if she ever decided to leave me because of them, I would understand. I won’t even go on holiday, because I can’t leave the dogs”.
Lucky and Zara are his favourites and he has complete rapport with them. He says he knows when they have detected drugs even before they indicate them, just by the way they look at him. Marbella council recently agreed unanimously to present awards to some Local Police officers and José Antonio is one of them. “I wish they could have given a medal to the dogs”, he says, “because they are proving indispensable. We only used to use them occasionally, but now it’s every day. I would love to share the award with them because of the fantastic work they do. After all, all I do is guide them”.