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Drug dog is a champ

February 08, 1999

Champ and RandyBy MARLO BARNHART / Staff Writer

photographer: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer




Sgt. Randy Mishler and his dog, Champ, have "scanned" thousands of visitors and inmates at the three state prisons south of Hagerstown - looking for drugs.

Since 1991, Mishler has been paired up with the 10-year-old Labrador/golden retriever who uses his educated nose to sniff out illegal drugs ... with amazing success.

Together they are a formidable team.

Assistant K-9 commander for the Maryland Division of Correction, Mishler is based in Hagerstown where the K-9 unit headquarters building/training facility is located adjacent to the Maryland Correctional Institution.

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"Champ came to us very young, 10-11 months old," Mishler said. As is often the case, he was donated by a citizen.

There are between 20-25 drug detector dogs statewide working in prisons.

After brief stints with two trainers on the Eastern Shore, Champ found a home with Mishler and his family. When not working, Champ is a family pet.

But Champ is also a DOC employee, with full health benefits and all his living expenses taken care of by the state of Maryland.

"We do unique training within the Division of Correction," Mishler said. "Because we do so many people scans, our dogs must learn to be very sociable and polite."

Unlike some drug dogs who react aggressively when they find illegal substances, Champ is very subtle.

"Not everyone picks up on it but I know when Champ has found something," Mishler said.

Other times, Champ leaves nothing to the imagination.

Mishler remembered one case where he and Champ were called in to investigate allegations that a worker on a construction site at the prison complex was smoking marijuana on his lunch hour.

"We came in to do a sweep of the area which was a very rough construction site," Mishler said. Almost at once, Champ began pulling on his lead.

Champ headed straight for a worker who was building a block wall.

"I noticed that the worker was putting up blocks in an odd design, one on top of each other instead of staggered," Mishler said.

Based on Champ's alert, Mishler had the blocks removed along with the wet cement between the blocks.

"We got down about halfway and Champ put his head down in the hole," Mishler said. "There at the bottom was a bag of marijuana."

Champ and the other drug dogs are retrained about 16 hours a month. Most are adept at finding the most common illegal drugs.

Visitors have been known to hide drugs in their undergarments, purses and even in their mouths, transferring them to inmates during visits, Mishler said.

Keeping those drugs from finding their way into the prison cells is the purpose for the scans.

Although still sharp, Champ has earned a rest and will be retiring soon to Mishler's home as a full-time family pet.

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