Officer Brad Smith watches as Steele sniffs out the drugs in a training exercise in Marysville this week. (Steve Powell/Staff Photo)

Taking a bite out of crime no easy task

MARYSVILLE – Officers Derek Oates and Brad Smith are finding it hard to replace the old with the new. They both are having to change their longtime partners, after their previous ones retired.

They are two of the Marysville Police Department’s K9 officers, who are in the process of training new dogs. Ranger is now Oates’ family dog after the pair had worked together for years.

“It’s hard to leave a partner after thousands of hours” together, Oates said. What makes it even tougher is his new dog, Copper, “doesn’t know anything – to sit, stay or heel.”

Oates added, “He’s a ball of energy.” At home, Oates said he doesn’t let the two German Shepherds mix. “They admire each other from afar,” he said.

Oates said Ranger wouldn’t be able to help Copper learn.

“He’s an alpha male,” Oates said of Ranger. “He’s got a pack animal mentality. He’s the boss.”

Oates said he doesn’t let his kids around the new dog much yet. “He’s got no manners. He jumps on the counters,” he said.

Smith lets his retired dog, a black lab named Katy, mix with his new Belgian Malinois named Steele. Smith said his new dog is less aggressive than Katy.

“Katy lived to work. This one is very social. We won’t have to worry so much about complaints,” like biting, he said, even though he had no problems with Katy.

Even so, Smith doesn’t let the dog around his kids much either.

“He’s too rough” for them, he said, adding the kids are putting peanut butter on their hands and letting Copper lick it off to help their bonding.

Oates said the two new dogs, which cost $7,200 each, are being trained both to track down criminals and sniff out drugs. Training can take up to 600 hours.

The three drugs they are learning the odor of are heroin, meth and cocaine. After finding the scent, Steele sits and stares, while Copper has been taught to scratch at the site. “They’re so smart,” Smith said.

Oates said they try to make it fun for the dogs. “Everything they do is a game,” Smith added.

When picking out K9 dogs, they look for ones that love to hunt.

“They will search and search and not stop until they find it,” Smith said. The department has a new board that “helps train the dogs better,” Oates said.

The board has dozens of holes drilled in it. The officer will point at a hole, and the dog will sniff it for the drug. When they find it, they are rewarded with a PVC pipe they chew on.

“That’s the greatest toy in the world,” Oates said.

Copper can get through the board quicker than Steele. “You have to go at the dog’s pace,” Oates said.

Smith said the dogs get confused when taken from their training area. Something they can do easily there can be a chore at another location.

“We are constantly taking them to different environments,” he said.

The MPD K9 program, which started in 2001, gets support from all over the community. Different businesses, agencies and groups have donated everything from the training facility to supplies to build a kennel. It even has its own Facebook page, where people can follow the animals or donate money to help.

A K9 vodka is in the works, and the K9 supervisor, Sgt. Adam Vermeulen, was wearing a sweatshirt with a K9 on it.

Vermeulen said the community loves the dogs and their handlers. They put on demonstrations at various community events, such as the annual National Night Out, along with working with the Boy Scouts and victims of domestic violence.

“They are so dedicated they make my job easy,” the sergeant said. “They take it home with them.”

Oates and Smith said they actually have fun training the dogs. They try to push them to the limit before calling the dogs off.

“They’ll be diving (at the target) with their mouth open, and we’ll yell ‘out’ to get them to stop,” Oates said. “Our goal is not to bite people, but to locate them and get the bad guys to give up.”

Smith said it’s all about trust. “We want them to know if they let go they’ll get it back,” he said of the toys. Smith said despite the frustrations, overall he enjoys training the dogs.

“Watching them learn – catch on,” he said.

“Again and again and again,” Oates joked, referring how dogs love to play over and over. Oates said he has always been a dog lover, but Smith has become “a dog person now.”

Both said dogs are critical to the force. “We’d never find them (criminals) the way the dogs do,” Oates said.

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