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May 1, 2013
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Drugs go to the dogs

EDWARDS — When it comes to drugs, you can lie to your parents, your lawyer, your judge and yourself.

But you cannot lie to Tucker and Jake.

They’re the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office’s two drug detecting dogs, and last weekend they were part of the U.S. Police Canine Association’s narcotics detection recertification.

The recertification is important because courts must trust what the dogs find. The U.S. Police Canine Association is the only canine association challenged and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Police officers insist it wasn’t a competition, but of the two dozen drug dogs from the five state region, Jake and Tucker were in the top five in everything.

The dogs start with 200 points and lose points for mistakes. You’ll be either happy or depressed to learn that Tucker and Jake were recertified after they found all the drugs they were supposed to, and none they weren’t — which is really good news since the event was held at a local high school. The dogs also had to track a guy who was doing everything he could to keep from being tracked.

These dogs can root out marijuana, heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, mushrooms, ecstasy and about anything else. (That’s a list of illegal narcotics, not your 1980s breakfast menu.)

Tucker and Jake also have a couple humans who hang around with them, deputies Tim Comroe and Jake Best with the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office.

During the recertification the handlers don’t know where the dope is. The dogs find it and the handlers have to trust them.

Who’s working whom?

Joe Clingan is Colorado’s grand master of police dog training. He has been in law enforcement since 1970 and has been training dogs since 1979.

“My dad told me to do something I love. I love animals, and I love putting bad guys away,” Clingan said.

Clingan was running this weekend’s drug dog event, taking a little time off from his regular job as police chief in Nunn.

It takes him eight weeks to train a dog and handler, and the handler is usually harder to train, Clingan said.

“The dogs don’t have all that clutter rattling around in there,” Clingan said, pointing to his noggin.

You need high drive dogs, he said, the kind of dogs that will play ball all day long. The problems with training high drive dogs are the same as training high drive kids.

“We need them to focus their attention on what we want them to find,” Clingan said. “A lot of high drive dogs can’t do it.”

Labs work well. So do German shepherds and Malamutes, Clingan said. People from a couple animal shelters call him when they get a dog they think will work.

The police get a good dog, and the dogs get a second chance at life.

Dogs can be trained to find just about anything: drugs, bombs, cadavers. They can be trained to “subdue” a suspect. Police say they can call a dog back, but they can’t call a bullet back.

Dogs are generally not cross-trained to find anything outside their specialty. The reason is simple.

“If a drug dog scratches a bomb, that session isn’t going to end well,” Clingan said.

Some dogs are trained for passive alerts; they sit when they find drugs. Other dogs use aggressive alerts, the kind where they try to scratch the drugs out of the vehicle with their front paws. It can be a little rough on the paint job.

Last weekend they spent two days running their dogs, or the dogs running their handlers.

It’s sometimes tough to determine who’s running whom.

Saturday afternoon, for example, a rookie handler was working with his German shepherd. Clingan had hidden about a pound of pot under the left front wheel well of a Chevy Suburban and the dog went straight to it like a spliff-seeking missile. The dog had such a snout full of weed that it did everything but order Taco Bell Cool Ranch Dorito tacos.

The handler paid no attention and pulled the dog, against its will, to another vehicle and away from the pot.

Clingan, who has seen all sorts of silliness in his five-decade career, gently explained to the handler the error of his ways.

In the real world

If Best or Comroe are called in for a little ganja grabbing and Tucker and Jake find some, the driver can consent to a search or the officer can get a search warrant, said Mike McWilliam, undersheriff with the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office.

“If it’s your car, you’re free to go, but your car is not,” McWilliam said.

If you’ve smoked some dope in your car in the last couple hours, it’ll go better for you if you tell them where the dog is likely to find the residue, McWilliam said.

Best and Comroe said they’re called out about twice a week.

A week ago an armed robber stole about $1,400 worth of electronic cigarettes from a Gypsum convenience store.

Best’s dog Jake found the cigarettes and Best figures they’ll find the robber soon. Tucker and Jake know what the guy smells like.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.


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The VailDaily Updated May 1, 2013 12:52AM Published May 1, 2013 09:24AM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.