Shirley is becoming a celebrity and enjoys the role.
The status is so important that she has a SOP — standard operating procedure — when she visits St. John-Owasso. She must go to each floor to see employees and especially children who are hospitalized. If that routine is broken, someone in the medical facility is upset. The hospital staff even had a birthday party for her.
That near celebrity status almost hides her real role as a crime-fighting tool for local, state and national law enforcement.
Shirley, a two-year-old Labrador Retriever, is a member of the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Department. Although classified as a ‘‘bomb dog,’’ she also is trained to detect a variety of explosives, guns and ammunition.
When she walks through the lobby at the Tulsa County Sheriff’s office, she is warmly greeted by the staff and gets a pat on the head. She acknowledges the reception with a wag of her tail.
Trained to walk on a leash with her handler, Deputy Tracy Breeden, the pair has become close friends since Jan. 1, the first official day on duty. They already had trained together since the fall of 2006.
Since reporting for duty, Shirley has been on only one bomb call. It was a hoax.
Yet, the pair has been busy.
They regularly accompany deputies serving search warrants. They also have been busy helping sheriff’s officers, Tulsa Police Department and the ATF with various assignments. Their job is to sweep a building looking for any explosives, guns and ammunition before additional personnel enter the premises.
It’s hard work for both because they are the first to enter a building.
Shirley, working on a leash, eagerly searches, at times pulling her handler. When she detects something, she immediately sits. When asked where to look, she points with her nose, but does not physically touch the area.
The job of recovering the item is left to others.
There was a big find when a search warrant was served recently.
Weapons were found in a house, Breeden said. One was a dismantled rifle hidden in a closet. Another was a modified shotgun and more than 100 rounds of ammunition.
The dog always finds all weapons on the site, the deputy continued. Officers have never located weapons she didn’t find first.
‘‘We have done so much work and public relations events that it is hard to keep up with the activities,’’ she continued. She was the escort for Miss America during her three-day Tulsa visit, searching dressing rooms and other areas where the reigning queen would be during her stay.
Miss America became attached to Shirley, Breeden added. There will be additional work protecting celebrities in the future, particularly during the political season when candidates visit the area.
Work isn’t limited to Tulsa County.
Breeden, cross deputized as an ATF agent, works with that law enforcement group, recently participating in serving a search warrant in southeast Oklahoma and southwest Arkansas in the Ft. Smith area.
Closer to home, the team has a regular weekly beat.
Each week they sweep the Tulsa County Courthouse, searching for possible weapons or other contraband. That sweep includes other county buildings and Expo Square facilities.
Shirley’s detection skills continue to amaze Breeden and her fellow officers.
During a routine sweep of a county parking garage, Shirley unexpectedly sat down by a vehicle authorized to be in the area.
Deputies were unable to detect any kind of weapon.
The owner was contacted and advised deputies the vehicle had been at a firing range several months earlier. Many were involved in target practice and had used that vehicle as a staging and reloading area.
Even then, with the owner and deputies watching, Shirley gave the vehicle a thorough examination.
The bomb threat at the IC Corporation bus facility, even though a hoax, brought new attention to Shirley and Breeden and underscored the importance of the team.
A thorough search of the premises proved the dog’s value and IC Corporation employees were taken by the thoroughness of the search.
They have since opened the facility, welcoming Breeden to continue Shirley’s training. Employees are allowed to watch the training procedures.
Training is constant and in a variety of areas.
Businesses, when contacted, welcome them. Employees are not interrupted, though many take the opportunity to watch.
It is important that Shirley learns to work regardless of what is going on in the area.
American Airlines has allowed the team to train on aircraft to familiarize them with that type of vehicle.
Recent training was held on a Tulsa Transit bus with employees participating as passengers. Training aids were carefully hidden on the vehicle. Shirley went to the training aid even though a woman was sitting in the seat.
Target, Home Depot and the Air National Guard base also have opened their doors as training sites.
The purpose is to constantly familiarize Shirley and Breeden with different areas and vehicles.
Schools also are on the beat.
Owasso High School students have seen Shirley in action as she checked the area — and lockers.
Nothing was found, Breeden said, but the effort underscored the message that weapons can be found regardless of where they might be hidden.
The students appreciated the demonstration and liked meeting Shirley.
Similar training sessions have been held at Cascia Hall, Tulsa Community College, Oral Roberts University and the Tulsa City-County Library.
Shirley and Breeden participate in reading programs at schools. The books are about dogs and are geared to various levels. The youngsters see a demonstration of Shirley at work and they get to pet her. They have been in a few Tulsa Public Schools and will be scheduling more in the future.
Breeden is hopeful that more law enforcement agencies will begin using their services.
Word slowly is getting out and many officers have said they later wished they had called. She said, ‘‘I feel that when they start calling, they will realize that Shirley really can do her job and they have a tool readily available to them.’’
Breeden said she also will be working with the ATF on search warrants in the future.
The strenuous day wears on both.
‘‘During training, we were told that feelings go down the leash,’’ Breeden continued. ‘‘That is true. If I am tired or don’t feel good, Shirley’s enthusiasm also declines. When I am enthusiastic, she works more eagerly.’’
However, Shirley also is able to tell Breeden when it is time to rest. She slows down during her searching efforts.
Once rested, she is ready to go back to work, helping protect citizens.
Shirley is becoming a celebrity and enjoys the role.