September 19, 2014

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Photo slideshow: Dealership offers ‘clunkers’ as K-9 training ground

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SHEFFIELD — The “cash for clunkers” trade-in program left Arch Abraham Nissan, 5013 Detroit Road, Sheffield, with lots of old cars sitting around.

So executive manager Mike Abraham figured out something to do with them — he allowed Lorain County Sheriff’s deputies to unleash six K-9 officers for an intense training session.

The dogs were ready for the challenge — finding drugs the deputies had hidden inside the vehicles.
Their sensitive noses helped the dogs ferret out the drugs wrapped in baggies, placed into canvas bags and put into metal boxes, all of which were concealed in the scrapped cars.

“They’re unbelievable,” Abraham said of the pack of four-legged crime fighters.

One by one, the dogs took turns finding heroin, marijuana, crack cocaine, powdered cocaine, Ecstasy, methamphetamine and opiate-based drugs such as OxyContin. The drugs used in the training exercise were real, but are locked up when not being used, deputies said.

“What we call it is setting them up for success — the dog needs to be successful,” said Deputy Bryan Barnes.

Deputy Bryan Barnes and his K-9 Ozzy train at Arch Abraham Nissan in Sheffield by searching the dealership’s gaggle of “cash for clunkers”’ vehicles for drugs. (Photo by Bruce Bishop, The Chronicle-Telegram.)

Deputy Bryan Barnes and his K-9 Ozzy train at Arch Abraham Nissan in Sheffield by searching the dealership’s gaggle of “cash for clunkers”’ vehicles for drugs. (Photo by Bruce Bishop, The Chronicle-Telegram.)

The powerful canine noses can detect the scent of drugs inside a vehicle — even if those drugs were only carried briefly on a passenger and are no longer in the car, the deputies said.

Heroin has an odor that reminds some people of vinegar, while marijuana has a pungent and distinctive herbal odor.

Cocaine — powdered and crack — also gives off strong scents as do other drugs such as Ecstasy, which smells strongly of chemicals.

It’s a fallacy that the dogs are given heroin and other addictive drugs, and that’s why they want to find them, said Deputy Mike Mettler.

Instead, Mettler’s German Shepherd Kasper wants to find the drugs for another reason.

“He knows we’re going to play with his toy,” Mettler said.

Some dogs like commercially made toys, while others — such as Barnes’ dog Ozzy — have more refined tastes. Ozzy’s preference is to play with a piece of rolled-up fire hose wrapped in duct tape.

Lorain County Sheriff’s Deputy Bob Perkins with his K-9 partner Drago. Drago may be forced to retire soon, but indicates he will not go quietly. (Photo by Bruce Bishop, The Chronicle-Telegram.)

Lorain County Sheriff’s Deputy Bob Perkins with his K-9 partner Drago. Drago may be forced to retire soon, but indicates he will not go quietly. (Photo by Bruce Bishop, The Chronicle-Telegram.)

Barnes said the dogs are used on a regular basis during traffic stops, usually when a person being stopped gives off certain clues that something is amiss.

“Normal people stopped for traffic offenses don’t have a shaky voice and don’t avoid eye contact with you,” Barnes said.

When a dog “alerts” on the presence of drugs, that is grounds for a search, the officers said.

Barnes said he hopes the work of the K-9 officers helps stop some drug users — and dealers — from slipping further into criminal activity.

For example, he said his dog alerted on 100 OxyContin pills while assisting the State Highway Patrol on a traffic stop about six months ago.

“I saw that guy today at the Dairy Mart,” Barnes said. “He engaged in some conversation with me and asked, ‘How are you doing?’ — he was a really nice guy, but he made a very bad decision.”

While the drug searches were impressive, perhaps the clearest example of the intelligence of the dogs can be seen while practicing apprehension — the takedown of fleeing suspects.

With just one command, Deputy Mettler’s K-9 Kasper quickly stopped what was to have been a full-fledged apprehension.

Instead, the dog circled harmlessly around master trainer Mike Watkins, who was wearing an arm mitt.
On the next command — when the dog got the go-ahead to attack — Kasper grabbed onto the arm mitt worn by Watkins and held tight.

Five of the six K-9 officers are male dogs, while Deputy Dan Thrasher has a female German shepherd named Valle.

Thrasher said Valle is all business on an assignment, while the male dogs might take time to mark their territory or smell other K-9s.

“Valle goes right to work,” Thrasher said.

These drugs, provided by the State Highway Patrol, are used to train the Sheriff's Office dogs. (Photo by Bruce Bishop, The Chronicle-Telegram.)

These drugs, provided by the State Highway Patrol, are used to train the Sheriff's Office dogs. (Photo by Bruce Bishop, The Chronicle-Telegram.)

At the Lorain County Jail, Valle recently found a pea-sized piece of marijuana wrapped in plastic and paper hidden in a cabinet in a jail pod.

“All the inmates were saying, ‘That dog won’t find anything,’ and when she did we were proud — the room got real quiet,” Thrasher said.

K-9 deputies

  • Mike Mettler and K-9 Kasper (corrections)
  • Jim Garza and K-9 Yasko (corrections)
  • Dan Thrasher and K-9 Valle (corrections)
  • Bryan Barnes and K-9 Ozzy (road patrol)
  • Bob Perkins and K-9 Drago (road patrol)
  • David Lottman and K-9 Jake (road patrol)

Contact Cindy Leise at 329-7245 or cleise@chroniclet.com.

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