YOU ARE HERE: HeraldMail HomeCollectionsK-9

Puppies to one day patrol prisons for drugs

State prisons begin drug-detection dog breeding program

State prisons begin drug-detection dog breeding program

December 24, 2006|by JULIE E. GREENE

On the day before Thanksgiving, they were a whining pile of soft black squirming fur.

By last week, with eyes open and sturdy legs under them, playful puppies were emerging with individual characteristics.

In four more weeks, six of them will be in training to become drug-detection dogs for Maryland's state prisons. Of the other six puppies, some have been promised to other recipients and the rest will be donated to other law enforcement agencies.

For now, the 12 puppies are enjoying time with mom Cayenne, who suspended her own drug-detection training to start the department's drug-detection breeding program.

Since Sept. 11's terrorist attacks, the demand for detection dogs has escalated, especially bomb-detection dogs, making it difficult to find drug-detection dogs, says Capt. Peter Anderson, K-9 commander for the Maryland Division of Correction. The K-9 headquarters is at the state prison complex south of Hagerstown.


As a result, a handful of places in the U.S. have started breeding programs for detection dogs.

"We believe we'll end up with a better end product and more cost-effective (product)," Anderson says. The cost of raising one puppy to 1 year old is estimated to be $1,000 - including the cost of mom, compared with buying one dog for training for $3,000 to $4,000.

Usually dogs don't start drug-detection training until they are 1 or 2 years old, making training more difficult because the dogs have established habits, Anderson says.

By starting their training at eight weeks, Anderson hopes to overcome some of these obstacles.

He wants to develop the dogs' comfort level in noisy environments and ability to work on slick surfaces such as prison cement or tile floors.

The dogs will eventually sniff prison inmates, cells, visitors, mail and vehicles for cocaine, marijuana, heroin, methamphetamines and derivatives of these drugs.

The K-9 unit trains drug-detection dogs for the Division of Correction, Western Maryland sheriff's departments and detention centers in Washington, D.C., and Frederick and Harford counties in Maryland.

The K-9 unit has 15 working drug-detection dogs and 10 working patrol dogs, statewide, Anderson says.

To increase their chances of developing good detection dogs, the K-9 unit sought advice in selecting the parents from expert Pat Nolan, a professional retriever trainer with Ponderosa Kennels in Smithsburg.

Black Labradors in general have strong scenting senses and are trained to detect drugs and bombs, Nolan says.

The puppies' parents, Cayenne and TNT's Romeo, both came from bloodlines with a history of good physical health, stamina, intelligence, hunting ability, a strong work ethic and trainability, Nolan says.

Anderson says Cayenne "loves to work, loves to hunt."

The parents also came from bloodlines with good temperaments, which is important because Anderson says he doesn't want people to be afraid of the drug-detection dogs.

The puppies were born during more than nine hours of labor on Nov. 21 in the K-9 unit's headquarters. A heat lamp was used to keep the puppies warm in a wooden whelping box built to house mom and her pups. Outside the whelping box is a carpeted, fenced-in garage floor that the puppies now explore.

At 8 weeks old, six of the puppies will be separated to live with their assigned K-9 officer or foster volunteers and begin their training, which will involve some aspects of puppy play.

In the meantime, the five employees taking care of the puppies get to experience the puppies' increasing energy level.

"Even full-grown men get excited about puppies," Anderson says.

The Herald-Mail Articles