Sgt. Steven Mendez and Rocco. Image Courtesy of Nancy Dunham
By Nancy Dunham
People tend to think that if a dog was given up, then there must be something wrong with him. However, most of the time, dogs end up homeless by no fault of their own.
Carol Skaziak is one advocate for abandoned dogs who is setting out to prove that the notion of abandoned dogs being undesirable is just a myth. After working at a luxury pet kennel and watching people drop their dogs off and never come back to pick them up, Skaziak knew she wanted to find a way to help.
She saw only potential in the abandoned dogs at the kennel, so in 2014, she founded the Throw Away Dogs Project in Huntington Valley, Pennsylvania.
What Does the Throw Away Dogs Project Do?
As the wife of a police officer, Skaziak has seen how law enforcement agencies can benefit from having K-9 police dogs on their teams. So when she saw the abandoned dogs at the kennel, Skaziak saw only their potential.
“The majority of the dogs that were left at the facility were high intensity yet extremely loyal,” she explains on the group’s website. “With proper training, I felt they could be turned into working dogs.”
So, through the creation of Throw Away Dogs Project, Skaziak—with co-founder and police officer Jason Walters and head trainer Bruce Myers—works to help abandoned dogs find a new purpose in life as working K-9 dogs.
“I said from day one that I wanted to change things around in this nation. Not only is the Throw Away Dogs Project recognized throughout the United States, we are now known internationally,” says Skaziak, CEO of the organization. “We have people reaching out to us as far as Australia, India, Iraq, Hawaii and, just recently, South Africa. Never in a million years did I expect this.”
The Throw Away Dogs Project has placed 25 K-9 dogs, eight service dogs for veterans and two service dogs for children with special needs.
How Are Dogs Chosen by Throw Away Dogs Project?
The Throw Away Dogs team screens dogs between 12-24 months of age from owners who are no longer able to care for them. The team also finds dogs at animal shelters, and some come from rescues.
The team’s dogs are successful because of their thorough screening process, which includes an assessment of:
Play drive: The dog plays until he’s almost exhausted.
Hunt drive: The dog searches without extra encouragement or rest breaks.
Confidence: Marching into dark or unfamiliar areas or squeezing through small spaces are vital attributes.
Possessiveness: Once the dog finds his target, he doesn’t want to release it.
Social: The dog is friendly and willing to have unfamiliar people approach.
Bravery: Willingness to walk without hesitation on a variety of surfaces is a must.
Once the dog is accepted into Throw Away Dogs’ training program, he begins working with the head trainer, who lives and works with the dogs for about three months. Daily training is customized to individual needs and helps prepare them for their new career as K-9 dogs.
Dogs are then placed with the police department—or other service project—free of charge, which is invaluable considering the normal training cost for a K-9 dog is between 10,000 and 15,000 dollars.
Scarce resources require the trio to be selective about which dogs they accept and train.
“We set the standards because we want dogs that have the best chance of succeeding,” explains Skaziak. “Occasionally some dogs don’t work out [after being placed]. When that happens, we bring the dog back for retraining. If that doesn’t work, the dog is placed with a family as a pet.”
Throw Away Dogs Project Alumni and Success Stories
When it comes to the success of Throw Away Dogs alumni, there is no shortage of proud owners.
“We were incredibly fortunate that Throw Away Dogs came into our lives with Sting,” says Officer Andrew Redmond about a 5-year-old Belgian Malinois that joined the Bradley Beach, New Jersey, Police Department in 2016. “He is the only explosive K-9 in Bradley Beach.”
Officer Andrew Redmond and K-9 Sting. Image Courtesy of Nancy Dunham
“One evening while on patrol, Sting and I were called out to a job in another town where a suspect was believed to have explosive materials,” Officer Redmond says. “Sting was the only dog on scene and recovered multiple guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition.”
Sgt. Steven Mendez of the Stryker, Ohio, Police Department sought to replace the force’s deceased K-9 but couldn’t afford the cost. By happenstance, he found Throw Away Dogs.
Sgt. Mendez and K-9 Rocco. Image Courtesy of Throw Away Dogs Project
“Given the size of our village, my main requirement was having a K-9 for tracking, including locating missing persons or suspects that run from law enforcement. I also needed a K-9 for narcotic detection,” says Sgt. Mendez. “Carol stated she had the right K-9 for me—a 2-year-old German Shepherd named King.”
When Sgt. Mendez’s department received their K-9 dog from Throw Away Dogs, he changed his name to Rocco.
“Rocco is a gentle giant with an eagerness to please,” Sgt. Mendez says. “With his personality, I have been able to use Rocco in many different types of events. I have taken Rocco to preschool classes where he allows the kids to climb all over him while I demonstrate and explain Rocco's abilities.”
Rocco’s good nature doesn’t make him any less effective in crime fighting, he adds.
“I have also used Rocco to search local jails and area schools for narcotics. I have also been called out by our local county Sheriff's Office to search for wanted subjects,” he says.
Officer Michael Carraccio has Throw Away Dogs alumnus Tico. Tico is a 2-year-old Belgian Malinois who now works successfully as a K-9 dog.
Carol and K-9 Tico. Image Courtesy of Nancy Dunham
“We patrolled the east division of Philadelphia this past year,” says Officer Carraccio, who works for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority. “We have been on countless unattended package calls—all cleared by K-9 Tico—and also a handful of article searches for weapons throughout the area. I could not ask for a better partner.”