Our canine friends have us at a disadvantage. We can walk into a kitchen and smell the wonderful aroma of spaghetti sauce simmering on the stove. Dogs can distinguish the separate ingredients like tomatoes, oregano, garlic, and whatever else is in there. Even more amazing, they can pick up the individual scent of each diner sharing the pasta dish. Every second, we shed thousands of skin cells that they can detect. No wonder they are a valuable tool in law enforcement. On the parking deck adjacent from the Sheriff’s Office, the members of the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office Citizens’ Academy met three of the canine law officers at our Tuesday class.
Captain Simmons, leader of the K-9 Unit, explained to us how the dogs are used in narcotics searches, criminal apprehensions, bomb detections, and searches of missing children. The dogs wear a vest with the official Sheriff’s Office seal to identify them as law enforcement officers. If you ever think of hitting or kicking one of these dogs, don’t do it! It is considered an assault on an officer and subject to charges.
The canine officers live with their partners/trainers where a kennel is provided by the Sheriff’s Office. But unlike our pets, they do not have playtime at home. When they work, they are rewarded with play, so as you can imagine they are very eager to go to work.
After Captain Simmons’ talk, it was time to see the dogs in action. First up was Hope, a bloodhound, used for tracking a suspect or a missing person. She works with Deputy Lopez. From an officer’s cap, she picked up his scent and tracked him to his hiding place in the far corner of the parking deck. We learned that her floppy ears and drooling saliva keeps the scent always there for her.
Next it was Major’s turn to impress us. Major is a German Shepherd, who works with Deputy Nall. Major specializes in apprehensions and searches. He demonstrated his obedience as his trainer gave him different commands. Once his trainer put on a bite sleeve, Major bolted for the target and clamped his jaws around it. As the officer displayed aggressive behavior, Major would not let go. In the end, he ran off with the sleeve between his teeth. Captain Simmons said that when a suspect is penned down, they tell him, or her, that if they don’t surrender, the officers will send in the dog. That threat alone is sometimes enough to force them out. Their bite is capable of breaking bones.
At last, it was Vela’s turn to shine. Like Major, Vela is a German shepherd. Under the commands of her handler, Deputy Sherwin, her assignment was to search vehicles for C-4, a plastic explosive. She and Deputy Sherwin walked around several cars on the parking deck with her nose trying to pick up the scent. When she detected the explosive, she sat down at the back of a vehicle and would not budge even as her trainer pulled on her leash. When the small bag containing the C-4 was passed around among us, our human noses detected no scent at all.
The next time you go to a Panther’s game at Bank of America Stadium, you can be sure that the canine officers of the Sheriff’s Office have made it safe, free of any explosive device. The service that the dogs and the six officers in the K-9 unit provide is invaluable. Now that I’ve seen what they can do, “Sit, boy. Play dead. Fetch the stick” seems lame to me. How about you? Feel free to leave a comment.