Marion County Sheriff Office’s drug detection dog Milos makes a pass of lockers at McNary High School. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

By ERIC A. HOWALD

Of the Keizertimes

The Marion County Sheriff’s drug detection dogs are the contradiction of what most people have come to expect of canines used in law enforcement circles. The proof is all in the attitude.

Unlike the reserved posture of K-9s used to track down suspects, the trio of pups are all about playing.

“These dogs are here to play. The whole world to them is a game,” said Deputy Sheriff Jeremy Landers, and handler of Misty, a retriever. Misty and Bailey, a chocolate lab, earn time with a tennis ball after a successful search, while Milos, a German shepherd, prefers a piece of garden hose.

“We go through about 50-foot of hose every year,” said Deputy Sheriff Todd Swendsen.

All three dogs spent last Saturday afternoon training at McNary High School and their handlers set up an impromptu demonstration for a small group of spectators that turned out to find out more about the dogs and their job.

“We like to train in different venues every time we’re out because the dogs get a real sense of a place once they’ve been there a few times,” Landers said.

All three dogs shared an excitable personality, but there is a key difference to how they respond to “hitting” on the scent of one of the four drugs they are trained to detect – cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine and heroin.

Misty and Bailey are trained for passive alerts meaning they will lie down at the site where they detect the odor, but Milos has an aggressive alert.

“He’ll scratch and bark at anything and sometimes it gets destroyed. It one of the reasons he spends 90 percent of his time at the jail,” Swendsen said.

Each of the handlers trains with the dogs to learn the animals’ specific cues and triggers.

“We get used to what the dogs do during a specific alerts,” Landers said. “When Misty comes into the odor, her head snaps back to the place where it’s the strongest, her body posture changes, respiration level changes and her mouth closes. We might recognize that in another dog, but knowing our specific dog helps.”

The reason law enforcement officers continue to use dogs over scientific instruments is simply because the are the best tool for the job, said Deputy Dale Huitt, Bailey’s handler.

“We have yet to develop technology that can detect levels as minute as what a dog can. The dog smells every little tiny component of an odor so no matter what is done to disguise [a drug], they’ll pick it up,” Huitt said.

While at McNary, the dogs ran a check of the school’s lockers and bathrooms, but the visit was announced beforehand, said John Honey, McNary principal. Any lockers where the dogs detected suspicious odors were searched and Honey planned on talking with the students assigned to the locker if anything was found.

“The intent isn’t to create opportunities for arrest, but to discourage students from bringing that kind of stuff onto our campus,” Honey said. “The idea is that we get to the point that we can do unannounced visits by the dogs without any disruption.”

Anyone looking to learn more about the Marion County drug dogs should stop by Petco in Keizer Station during the Iris Festival. The dogs and their handlers will be performing demonstrations.