Drug dogs earn stripes
When Baxter isn't working, you'll likely find him lazily lying around. But, get out a rubber ball, and his demeanor instantly transforms from tired to tireless.
Baxter -- officially "Baxter 2" -- is in training with handler Bob Hess to become Deer Ridge Correctional Institution's first canine officer.
The ball -- a training tool -- is used by Hess and other handlers around the state as a reward when a dog successfully locates drugs.
"He loves the game," said Hess of his 3-year-old pointer mix. "He will do anything for the ball."
Last week, dogs and handlers from Central and Eastern Oregon gathered at the Madras prison for testing.
Deputy Kyle Joye, with the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office in Bend, is the only canine trainer in Central Oregon for the Oregon Police Canine Association.
Once a year, he said, both handlers and dogs are required to test for recertification. Initial training for drug dogs takes about six weeks, or 240 hours.
The training ensures that if specific drugs are present, the canine officers will find them -- whether in or on a vehicle, in a residence, or in prison.
For officers on patrol, the usual scenario involves an officer pulling over a vehicle. "Typically, what will happen is an officer will make a traffic stop and build suspicion that there are drugs inside the car," Joye said.
"With that suspicion, they'll call a narcotics dog," he continued. On a typical stop, which takes 15 to 20 minutes, the dog and handler have that long to arrive.
Once on the scene, Joye said, "Anywhere I as a police officer have a right to be, my dog has a right to be."
The dog is entitled to breathe "free air," he said. "Anything emanating from the car, my dog has a right to sniff."
"The dog is really a portable air sampling device," explained Mack Reid, of the Oregon Department of Correction's Salem office. Reid is a master trainer with the Oregon Police Canine Association.
"The handler needs to manipulate the dog so the dog will sample the air in enough places so he will reasonably find controlled substances," Reid said.
Experienced handlers look for a change in the dog's behavior. "Typically, his ears will change, his breathing will change, and he'll start zeroing in on the location," he said.
"If the dog alerts to the car," Joye said, "that gives us probable cause to search the car."
According to Reid, who has trained a total of 21 dogs, the DOC trains its dogs to be passive responders. When they find drugs, "They all put their nose on it and sit," he said.
Deschutes County's drug dog, on the other hand, is an aggressive responder, Reid said. A dog trained to respond aggressively paws at the location where the drugs are found.
Dogs are trained to locate marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin, in quantities as small as a gram or two, noted Reid, who is currently working with Chinook, his third dog.
To qualify for certification, dogs like Chinook and Baxter must find 11 of the 12 training aids -- small quantities of the various drugs -- that are hidden in a vehicle and a room.
Like most of the other dogs used by the DOC, both Baxter and Chinook came from the Oregon Humane Society, in Portland. Reid estimates that Chinook, a pit bull mix, is 7 or 8 years old.
Hess is eager to help Baxter join the ranks of canine officers like Chinook. The DOC currently has three certified dogs in Oregon; another three, including Baxter, are in training to earn certification.
Once Baxter earns certification, Hess expects that he will be used not only for searches at the prison, but also to help out other police agencies in the area.
"If Jefferson County or the Madras PD needs a drug dog, we will assist," Hess said. "If we can offer the service, we can be there for them."
Work outside the prison has an added benefit. "It's really helpful for the dog," he said. "There are so many different (drug) odors out there, the more the dog gets exposed to the odors, it helps him learn for when we're inside the prison."