The students have taken to the new guy in school.
Walking the locker-plated corridors of West Hall Middle School on a recent day, heads turn and call out to him: “Hey, Murph!”
You’ll have to forgive him if he doesn’t respond. Murph’s on a mission.
He’s also a dog. The drug-sniffing kind.
Hidden in a classroom is something this young Labrador retriever, chocolate fur all over, will almost certainly find. A tennis ball and a belly rub are his hoped-for reward.
When Murph enters a classroom, he’s met with the wide eyes of kids wondering if this drill is the real thing.
It’s not. But don’t tell them.
After the class is cleared, Murph bounds across the hard tile, between tables and chairs, settling on a row of cabinets on the far wall. A few back and forths later, Murph has zeroed in on the source of the smell and heeled to alert his trainer.
“I’m looking for that change in behavior,” said Hall County school resource officer Stan Watson, Murph’s handler. “To him, it’s a game.”
It’s also work.
Watson said Murph was one of just three out of 20 dogs to pass his training class.
And he’s passed his first semester in Hall County Schools with flyer colors.
“He wants to work,” Watson said. “He has a great nose.”
Yes, he’s sniffed out some drugs, but the numbers are down. And school officials said Murph serves as much for prevention as he does for enforcement.
“(Murph) can discourage drugs,” said school system spokesman Gordon Higgins. “(Students) are on alert.”
Murph pays random visits to all Hall County middle and high schools — and sometimes acts on tips, officials said.
But the trick is to keep it unpredictable, keep them guessing, according to Watson. So maybe he visits a school twice in a day or patrols the parking lot instead.
“I think (Murph) has done incredible,” Watson said.
The school district purchased Murph for $15,000, including the cost of the animal, his training, equipment and food. Veterinary services are donated.
Superintendent Will Schofield said it’s part of a broader anti-drug initiative, including rewards for information, anonymous tip lines and educational programs.
Watson said he seized the opportunity to work as a K-9 handler. It brought a good change of pace after 28 years in law enforcement. And a new roommate.
Murph lives with Watson, and when the dog sniffs out the stash, their bond is on display.
“Good boy!” Watson will exclaim.
The two might make for a good “buddy cop” movie.
“You do get attached,” Watson said.