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K-9 officers change tactics to keep dogs from overdoses

January 15, 2018

OWENSBORO, Ky. (AP) — Daviess County Sheriff’s Deputy Russ Day won’t put his K-9, Cyla, inside vehicles anymore to do drug searches. Because of powerful opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil, the practice has become too risky, Day said.

“The initial cost (of a police dog) is $18,000 to $20,000. You have some big bucks wrapped up in these dogs real quick,” Day said. “I don’t put my dog inside a car anymore because of that reason.”

Last year, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency declared the opioid fentanyl an “unprecedented threat” to law enforcement officers because of the risk of officers being exposed to the drugs during searches and arrests. Earlier this year, media reports say an East Liverpool, Ohio, police officer was hospitalized after coming into contact with fentanyl during an arrest, and news reports say three police dogs have overdosed in Florida after being exposed to fentanyl.

Day said because dogs have a more powerful sense of smell than humans, he’s concerned about putting Cyla into a vehicle for drug searches.

“I just think it’s too dangerous,” Day said.

He uses Cyla to do a sniff outside the car, and if the dog detects drugs, Day does the search with a mask and gloves.

“Drug users are known, when cops get behind them, to try to drop (their drugs) on the floorboard,” he said. “We were always cautious about our dogs getting into something ... but with fentanyl and carfentanil, we had to stop” interior searches.

Officer Andrew Bell, public information officer for the Owensboro Police Department, said veteran OPD K-9 officer Chris Watkins still does interior searches with his police dog. But the agency has taken the precaution of ordering Narcan kits specially designed for police dogs. Narcan, which is carried by patrol officers and sheriff’s deputies, counteracts the effects of an opioid overdose.

Bell said the danger of fentanyl exposure to police dogs is much like other risks faced by officers.

“The bad thing is, you don’t know it’s there until you find it,” Bell said.

For city K-9 officers, the kits will allow them to continue doing drug searches as usual while preparing for the possibility of an overdose, he said.

Day said he is also looking into getting Narcan for his police dog.

“It’s not that expensive,” Day said. “I want to say $250 (would) get me enough for three doses. But the human version would work.”

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Information from: Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer, http://www.messenger-inquirer.com

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