Deputy Cannonball dogs crime in Llano County

By Phil Reynolds

The Highlander

Llano County Precinct 2 Constable Richard Harris just got a new deputy. Only this one has four legs instead of two, and gets his kicks from a tennis ball.

The deputy – his name is Cannonball, but Harris is as likely to call him Meathead – is a 1-1/2-year-old pit bull rescued by an organization called Animal Farm Foundation, which aims to eliminate the bad name pit bulls have gotten over the years. Harris acquired him through a grant from the foundation and training was provided by Brad Croft of Universal K9 in San Antonio. Harris and Cannonball graduated together from the two-week course on Friday, June 16, but Harris said Cannonball had had training before that.

Croft first determines how suitable the dog is for training and then actually teaches the dog to find and “alert” on several substances before the eventual handler – Harris, in this case – enters the picture.

“When he finds something, he’ll do what’s called a passive alert,” Harris said, explaining that a passive alert is sitting where the dog smells the substance. An active alert, he said, means the dog will scratch or paw at the substance when he finds it.

Cannonball is trained to alert to methamphetamines, marijuana, Ecstasy, heroin and cocaine, Harris said.

He emphasized that his new partner is absolutely not trained as a guard dog or attack dog and shows little or no aggressiveness toward people, though he will bark in a way that lets Harris know someone else has appeared.

“I want people to realize that (Cannonball) is not people-aggressive at all,” he said.

But there’s that tennis ball.

When Cannonball finds drugs, Harris treats him by tossing him the fluorescent yellow ball, which Cannonball pounces on happily and chews before tossing it in the air. He only gets the ball when he finds drugs; no drugs – no tennis ball. It might not be much of an incentive for you, but Cannonball loves it.

Harris said he’ll devote a significant amount of time to patrolling Texas 16 and Texas 29, both of which go through or border Precinct 2.

Texas 16 begins on the Rio Grande at Zapata and continues north through Freer, dodges San Antonio, hits Bandera, Kerrville and Fredericksburg before crossing Texas 29 at Llano, and goes on through Goldthwaite to end just south of the Red River. It’s a natural route for running drugs north from Mexico, Harris said.

Texas 29 begins in Williamson County just north of Taylor and passes through Burnet on its way to Llano, then to Mason and south of Menard before linking with US 190 and, farther west, with Interstate 10 into El Paso. That’s a drug route from Mexico eastward through Texas, Harris said.

Harris and Cannonball aren’t alone in their determination to find drugs.

“It’s thrilling to have a dog like Cannonball working with Constable Harris,” said Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Linda Ballard.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Linda Raschke added, “(Constable) Harris is first and foremost a law enforcement officer and this will only help him.”

Precinct residents also chipped in to show their backing: In Tow and Buchanan Lake Village, donors dropped a total of $550 in a bucket to help pay Cannonball’s expenses. The company 007 Bail Bonds of Burnet also donated $100, Harris said. (The dog itself was donated by Animal Farms Foundation and a grant paid for the training; Llano County funds paid Harris’s motel bill and meals while he was being trained in San Antonio.)

“Without the donations, this would not have been possible,” Harris said.

Harris said adding Cannonball to his staff will mean some basic changes in his job. While he already spent time patrolling, he’ll concentrate more on drug interdiction in the future, he said.

That’s okay with precinct officials.

“This is a necessary resource here,” Raschke said.

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