After another series of tragic shootings dominated American headlines in recent weeks, Americans have been searching for and debating possible solutions with a renewed vigor. When it comes to law enforcement’s approach to mass shootings, most of the debate revolves around two distinct topics: how to prevent an active shooter situation, and then, how to stop an active shooter after prevention fails.
As a former Navy SEAL and K-9 trainer, Joshua Morton’s professionally developed area of expertise isn’t in the former, but when it comes to the latter, he may just be onto something.
“I did not expect to see what I saw overseas, to see it in schools. But, unfortunately, it’s happening,” Morton told NBC’s Washington affiliate. “I’ve been trying to find this solution for a very long time.”
Morton’s solution began with finding a dog that was willing to be trained to run toward the sound of gunfire. Once he’d found the right one, he didn’t just set about training the pup, he cloned it to ensure he would have another crop of dogs with similar attributes to begin training as well.
“Cloning allows me to be consistent,” Morton said. “Now, I know that I can tell a client, ‘Hey, I’ll have this dog ready in nine months.”
Using an AR-15 loaded with blank rounds and a padded K-9 training suit, Morton trains his dogs to navigate through complex buildings (like schools), closing with the sounds of gunfire and ignoring any humans that aren’t carrying a weapon. Once the dog spots the shooter, it attacks until it’s given the command to stop.
While Morton normally trains police dogs to use their noses to sniff for drugs or explosives, these dogs are trained only for the specific task of neutralizing an active shooter in school like environments. As a result, Morton says the dogs are not only extremely effective but present very little threat to children or teachers even in a frantic, active shooter environment.
The dogs work in conjunction with a trained handler and would be assigned to a school, allowing both the dog and handler to develop a solid working knowledge of the grounds so they can respond even faster to a potential threat. The downside, however, is the cost. A highly trained dog and handler together would cost a school somewhere in the neighborhood of $125,000 per year, though Morton points out that saving lives is worth every penny. As Morton puts it, these dogs are heading to schools to put their lives on the line for the children.
“I am sending the dog as a canary,” Morton said. “It’s a hard pill to swallow but I’m sorry, it’s the reality. I would rather it be him than a child or somebody else.”
Morton says his first cloned school protection K-9 will be headed to a school in Minnesota this coming January, with at least ten other schools already expressing an interest in getting trained dogs of their own.
According to Morton’s bio, he served on the SEAL teams for eight years, deploying to Iraq as SEAL Team 4’s military dog handler five times.