LARAMIE — Don’t let her cute name or her adorable demeanor fool you,when it comes to nabbing drug runners along Wyoming’s highways, Becky is all business.
“Since coming to work for us, she’s been involved in several large drug seizures. For fentanyl, methamphetamine, heroin … sometimes for several pounds of drugs,” Wyoming Highway Patrol Capt. Marc Russell told Cowboy State Daily.
Russell commands the WHP K-9 Division, which gathered at the Wyoming Army National Guard armory in Laramie on Monday for training exercises.
Not The Pooches You’d Expect
Walking into a law enforcement dog training session, one might expect to find burly, intimidating German shepards, maybe Dobermans or perhaps bloodhounds for tracking crooks and sniffing out contraband.
WHP none of the above, Russell said. The agency’s K-9 units are hyper-focused on one thing — finding drugs along Wyoming’s highways, particularly the Interstate 80 corridor.
For that task, they need dogs with hyper-focus. And lively, friendly bird dog breeds such as spaniels and Labradors are ideal for the mission.
“In a busy and noisy environment, such as out on the interstate with traffic going by on the concrete, we need dogs that can stay completely focused on their task,” he said. “We want really high-drive dogs.”
They also want dogs breeds tailored to spend all day locking on to scents and pursing game birds have the ideal characteristics, Russell said.
Even Criminals Can’t Resist The Cute Factor
Spaniels and retrievers also tend to be friendly, easy-going and — let’s face it — cute.
Russell said such happy-go-lucky, but hardworking, four-footed officers sometimes illicit strange reactions from crooks who are about to be busted.
After watching a wriggling, panting ball of fur and energy come barreling in and zero in on their contraband, “A lot of those guys are like, ‘Did that really just happen?’” he said.
He even recalls one perp fawning over his spaniel a few years ago.
“I have Plexiglas between the dog compartment and the prisoner compartment of my cruiser, and he (the suspect) was looking at the dog and going, ‘goochy goo!’” Russell said.
Nevertheless, what the WHP canine units do is no light-hearted matter, he added. Many Wyomingites might be blissfully unaware of the amount of dangerous contraband that passes through the state, and dogs such as Becky are hugely helpful in making things safer.
All The Way From Ireland
WHP seeks out the best breeders all over the world. Some of its dogs have come from places such as France or the Czeck Republic, Russell said. Becky, who is about 7 years old, came from Ireland and joined the WPH in 2018.
When it was her turn to run some exercises, Becky’s handler, Trooper Andy Martinez, let her out of his cruiser.
“She just lives to get out of the car and work,” he said.
Becky was run through several exercises, searching vehicles, an office and a locker room. The latter had deliberately placed containers of soaps and cleaning supplies.
The idea is to permeate the space with other odors to make sure the dog doesn’t get distracted and can zero in on contraband, Martinez said.
Despite the symphony of distracting smells that even a human could easily pick up, Becky never took more than mere seconds to find her target. She was rewarded each time with praise from Martinez, who gave Becky her favorite toy, a tennis ball.
Martinez is Becky’s second WHP handler and has been paired with her since August.
It’s tough keeping up with her, he said.
“She’s a wild child, a firecracker, she’s 110 mph all the time,” he said.
Becky stays in Martinez’s home with his family, but isn’t treated too much like a pet, he said.
“My kids love her. Who doesn’t love a dog?” he said. “But I have to remind my kids, she’s a working dog” and can’t be spoiled.
Drug detection dogs that get too used to comfort and pampering can lose their edge, Russell said.
And though Becky and many of the other WHP dogs are bird-hunting breeds, their handlers aren’t allowed to take them bird hunting, he added. That’s because the dogs have to be singularly focused on their jobs of sniffing out drugs or explosives.
Detecting drugs isn’t without its hazards, as dogs can sometimes be exposed to dangerous residues, Russell said. K-9 troopers carry Narcan —for themselves and their dogs — in case of exposure.
Oddly enough, dogs apparently aren’t nearly as sensitive as humans are to fentanyl exposure, he said.
“Our veterinarian has told us, ‘If a dog is exposed to heroin or methamphetamine, they need to be brought to me right away,’ but with fentanyl, just keep a close eye on them,’” Russell said.
A Good Retirement
Once dogs retire, their handlers have the option of adopting them and can then train them for bird hunting if they wish, Russell said.
Becky is getting on in dog years but doesn’t seem to be ready for retirement anytime soon, Martinez and Russell said.
The dogs are examined regularly by veterinarians and retired once they start showing any signs of age-related fatigue, which usually starts with joint problems, Russell said.
“We don’t want to run these dogs into the ground,” he said. “We want to retire them while they are still able to fully enjoy it, because they deserve it.”
Martinez said when the time comes for Becky’s retirement, he’ll likely adopt her.
“We’ve bonded, and my family loves her,” he said.
Mark Heinz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.