Dogs trained to sniff out narcotics lead with their powerful noses while they’re on the job — bringing them in closer proximity to dangerous substances and putting them at a higher risk for an unintentional overdose.
As street drug manufacturing continues to change — the New York State Police K9 Unit is adding to its safety protocols to better protect its dogs.
In addition to heroin, NYS Troopers are finding the powerful painkiller, Fentanyl, is becoming more common. Fentanyl is 50 times more potent — making it more dangerous to come in contact with.
For a K9 — the danger is in inhaling or ingesting a dangerous dose of Fentanyl.
Going on their fifth year as partners, NYS Trooper Mark Bender and Mandin, a 6-year-old German Shepherd, are watching each other’s backs.
“It’s my job as a dog handler, just as he protects me, it’s my job to protect him,” Bender said. “Prior to doing a narcotic search, I will check and make sure that I feel it is safe for him. You always run the risk of him coming into contact with something that you didn’t see or that’s not visible to the naked eye.”
It’s what they can’t see that could make Bender sick, but could be deadly for Mandin.
“There are people who are attempting to intentionally hurt our dogs because they know we’re interrupting their drug trade in their drug world,” Bender explained.
In the past, a K9 Unit would keep Naloxone in its vehicle for both canine and human use, but now it’s crucial for the Trooper to carry it on his or her uniform at all times.
“Because I’m with my K9 partner all the time, I carry this with me right on my belt ready to go,” Bender said.
The Naloxone dosage for a K9 is given as a shot to reverse a potential overdose — just as it would if it were given to a person as a nasal spray.
If a K9 is actively sniffing out drugs in a search and requires Naloxone, the dog’s partner would be ready to administer the life-saving dosage immediately.
“We do our research to find out what they’re doing to try to harm our dogs,” Bender said. “We try to keep ahead of that curve and make sure that they’re safe.”
Bender says there are other elements Troopers have discovered in recent drug busts that have also changed safety precautions. Specific details on those measures will not be released to ensure the safety of all narcotics officers.