There’s a big stink in Florida about the use of drug-sniffing dogs. The state has appealed two decisions to the US Supreme Court (which the Court is now hearing; ruling next June). One lawyer representing the state argued that a home’s interior is protected from searches by the Fourth Amendment but that odors emitted from inside the house are not. So, if the odor of marijuana is detected by a drug-sniffing dog that is accompanying a law enforcement officer, that officer can search the house without first obtaining a warrant? Justice Scalia doubted that the odor would have been detected had the officer not taken the dog onto the defendant’s front porch. (The straightforward Scalia rather prides himself on things passing the smell test.) The other state case argues that merely the barking pointed-tail alert of a drug-sniffing pooch is not probable cause for a search if the state can’t prove the dog was reliable. (Dogs commercially trained to sniff out bed bugs, for instance, often indicate an expensive problem that doesn’t exist, say some chambers of commerce. They are reliable only in their employers eyes and a similar scenario is suspected with some police dogs.)
Some dogs are clearly reliable, though, and the proof can be happy. This week, in the woods of Hackleburg, Alabama, a pack of four puppies found a 10-year-old boy with Down syndrome who had gone missing from his home. Young and scared, the boy and puppies stayed together and kept each other warm overnight. In the morning the mother of the litter found a local volunteer searcher and was able to communicate to him that something was wrong and urgent and convinced him to follow her (a scene readers of a certain age will recognize from Lassie: “What is it, girl?”). Mama led the trusting volunteer right to the boy, who was safely surrounded by the puppies.