Chris Collins
The Baker City Herald

A lively and happy group of four-legged visitors made the rounds in Baker City this week with their tongues flopping and their tails wagging.

The visitors, accompanied by their two-legged police partners, were participants in the Pacific Northwest Police Detection Dog Association’s 20th annual conference.

Though the dogs looked like they were just here for the fun, they put their all into the field exercises that tested their ability to overcome obstacles, a variety of new and interesting odors and even other animals that would have distracted most other dogs.

But these are not most other dogs.

They are trained to find narcotics.

In fact their 10- to 15-minute frenzied efforts to find drugs is like running a marathon for a person, says Sgt. Wayne Chastain of the Baker City Police Department. The dogs happily expend the energy to achieve success that leads to treasured playtime with their handlers, he said.

Chastain, who handles Baker City’s drug detection dog, Capa, helped organize this year’s event.

The visiting group was composed of 46 pairs of officers and detection dogs who serve police agencies in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and British Columbia, Canada. Representatives from the U.S. Boarder Patrol and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency also participated.

The law enforcement officers rotated through four half-days of classroom training and four half-days of practical exercises that challenged the drug detecting dogs to find — or perhaps not find — drugs that might or might not have been planted in buildings, houses, commercial vehicles, passenger cars, school buses and a south Baker City warehouse.

Officers who chose to undergo testing today worked to gain certification for themselves and their dogs to help them fend off court challenges to their dogs’ abilities to uncover drugs that might otherwise go undetected without the keen canine noses.

Mark Barclay is a patrol deputy with the Elmore County, Idaho, Sheriff’s Office at Mountain Home. He serves as vice president of the Pacific Northwest Police Detection Dog Association, and is among the members who volunteer to travel on their own time to the annual conference each year.

“It’s the dedication and passion you have for this job that brings you here,” Barclay said on Tuesday, the second day of the conference.

Barclay’s law enforcement career includes 17 years as a handler, working with two separate dogs.

“The officers spend more time with their canine partners than they do at home,” Barclay said of the bond that develops between handlers and dogs.

The polo shirts and T-shirts officers wore during the conference carried their “Triple D” motto: detection, dedication and duty.

Don Muller, a 40-year-old officer with the Washington County Sheriff’s Department in Oregon, took his 4-year-old German shepherd, Taz, through his paces on seven cars. A “training aid”containing marijuana was placed on one of the vehicles.

Because Taz works in Oregon where marijuana is legal for recreational use, the drug-detecting dog didn’t respond to the marijuana scent that was part of the training session. Taz is trained to detect heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine only.

Drug-detection dogs in Idaho, where marijuana remains illegal for recreational use, still are also trained to detect marijuana along with the other three drugs, Barclay said.

See more in the May 25, 2018, issue of the Baker City Herald.