A German shepherd named Chance comforts the afflicted, and afflicts the comfortable – those comfortable with illegal drugs, that is.
2nd Lt. Chance and his handler, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Joe Hall of the California State Guard, are volunteers who have occasionally been at the Fort Hunter Liggett front gate for random narcotics checks. Chance is also a therapy dog, visiting assisted living facilities, hospitals, and people who just need a boost to their spirits.
“Our motto is 24/7 we’ll go anywhere anybody wants us to go,” said Hall. “His first therapy session was a Soldier who was contemplating suicide. Chance spent two hours with the Soldier in the hospital, just climbed up in bed with him and put his head in his lap. The Soldier was able to go back to work and we see him all the time. They’re the best of buddies. It was heartwarming for both of us.”
The team even visits Cal Poly students during finals. “They like to decompress with the dog, so they get to pet him. It’s kind of like being at home. They miss their own dogs.” He and Chance also work through Alliance Therapy Dogs and Caring Canines through the Santa Lucia Dog Obedience Group. Chance is also competing for Therapy Dog of the Year through HeroDogAwards.org, and Hall hopes people will vote for him.
Hall has been a dog handler since 1982 as a civilian policeman in Southern California, with four dogs in his 30-year career. He and his wife moved to the Central Coast 11 years ago. He was a San Luis Obispo County deputy for three years, and worked search and rescue for five years with Teddy, retired son of his last police dog. Teddy is Chance’s best friend, along with a three-legged cat named Present.
Chance was born seven years ago in Atascadero, and Hall wanted him to be well trained and socialized so he could be friendly around people. “All my dogs in law enforcement were very social,” said Hall. “I’d go to preschools and kids would pet them.”
Hall is a member of the California State Guard (formerly the California State Military Reserve), made up of retired military and civilian volunteers that assist the California National Guard on a regular basis and in times of emergencies. He also works as a small arms trainer at Camp Roberts.
Chance’s role at Fort Hunter Liggett is that of narcotics detection. “He’s a focused-alert dog,” said Hall. “He’ll put his nose on where the odor’s coming out of and stay there like a dog on point for a bird.” K-9s are typically rewarded for correct responses with a favorite toy. Chance’s is a Kong bone, and he loves to play tug-of-war with Hall.
FHL Deputy Police Chief Robert Deimler was a K-9 handler for 12 years and said, “K-9 involvement at Fort Hunter Liggett, first and foremost, serves as a psychological deterrent. Just their presence, with the public not knowing their capabilities, will influence a person’s decision. They assist with Force Protection, they are a force multiplier and they provide good relations with the community.”
K-9s also possess official rank. “He was originally a specialist,” said Hall. “I introduced him to the chaplain at Camp Roberts and he said, ‘Chief that dog needs to outrank you.’ I thought he was pulling my leg. He said there’s a military regulation that says a dog has to outrank the handler.”
Tradition says that’s to keep the handler from mistreating his four-legged charge, whether it’s a K-9 or a mascot. Hall continued, “I went to my commanding officer and we had a ceremony, attention to orders, and Chance was promoted to second lieutenant at the Camp Roberts Thanksgiving unit get-together.”
Chance and Hall will be on hand at the Fort Hunter Liggett Open House May 15, giving demonstrations and letting people get to know Chance. They will have trading cards on hand with Chance’s photo and biographical information as well – always a favorite with young and old alike. If you haven’t met Chance at the front gate, come and give him a thankful scratch behind the ears at the Open House.