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Police dog detects deadly drug

Doodz, an RCMP police service dog, was the first dog in Canada to detect the drug fentanyl after being trained on the scent in the spring. Credit: Leann Parker, RCMP

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After Doodz the police service dog and his handler, Cpl. Clayton Catellier, received new training to detect the drug fentanyl, they did just that — preventing a large amount of the deadly drug from reaching the streets.

Catellier, who's part of a traffic unit in B.C.'s Fraser Valley, was one of the first three police dog teams in Canada to be trained on the odour. Shortly after, he and Doodz found fentanyl when he pulled a car over for speeding.

Based on indicators he noticed during the stop, Catellier felt the driver might be in possession of narcotics and detained him. While it's his job to stop cars for traffic violations, he also keeps an eye out for travelling criminals.

"At that point, once the driver is detained, I can run my dog outside of the vehicle," says Catellier. "Doodz was deployed and she alerted on the presence of narcotics right in the area the fentanyl was found. There were 12,000 pills in six different bags."

Safety first

S/Sgt. Eric Stebenne, the head trainer at the RCMP's Police Dog Service Training Centre (PDSTC) in Innisfail, Alta., recognized that fentanyl was quickly becoming a public safety issue for the Canadian public, the police and police dogs.

He set out to learn more about the drug and educate staff at the training centre about it. He also researched to see if any police dog services in Canada or elsewhere were doing fentanyl detection with canine partners.

"It wasn't being done," says Stebenne.

That was in the fall of 2015. Since the drug is dangerous and can easily be inhaled, absorbed or ingested, it took time to find a safe way to train dogs and their handlers.

"Fentanyl in its powder form creates a big issue because we have airborne particles," says Stebenne. "Airborne particles can be inhaled by our dogs and police officers and could be fatal."

He partnered with the RCMP's B.C. Clandestine Laboratory Enforcement and Response Team[SD1] and they found a safe way of introducing the odour by making fentanyl a liquid.

"By diluting the powder form into a sterile solution the odour is still available to the dogs but there are no airborne particles available to get in their systems," says Stebenne.

The PDSTC expects to have all 139 RCMP narcotics profile dog teams across Canada trained by mid-July 2017.

Protecting communities

While it might seem dangerous to train police service dogs to detect fentanyl, they're already at risk of exposure in their day-to-day duties detecting other substances in the field.

"Police dog service members in the field, both dogs and handlers, rarely get the luxury of knowing what they're searching for," says Stebenne. "If we're going to be in the narcotic detection business, in my mind, fentanyl has to be part of what we're looking for because it's out there."

All dog handlers have been carrying naloxone, an antidote for opioids, for 20 years. They're ahead of the curve, in that regard, says Insp. Akrum Ghadban, the officer in charge of the PDSTC. "Protecting our dogs is paramount — the dogs and the handlers. We see that as job number one here."

Without training, Doodz wouldn't have indicated to Catellier there was something in that car, and Catellier wouldn't have had grounds to arrest the driver and subsequently search the vehicle.

"Because we were trained, we were able to prevent that fentanyl from getting into the community," says Catellier. "I get personal satisfaction finding narcotics, especially with this seizure of fentanyl, because I know how dangerous it is and how it affects communities."

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