K-9s and their handlers charm and amaze audience at Troutman library
BY DEBBIE PAGE
The fur was flying at the J. Hoyt Hayes Memorial Troutman Library when Troutman Officer Darin Bumgarner and his K-9 partner "Jackpot" and Iredell County Sheriff’s Deputy Madison Sharpe and his K-9 "Tito" showed off their narcotic detection skills as a part of the library’s “Space: A Universe of Stories” summer reading program.
Program Director Shellie Kennedy explained the program was to inform the community about the jobs of the officers and their “handsome partners” and how they keep the community safe.
The officers set up four different “hides,” using the scents of heroin, meth and cocaine, so the audience could watch the K-9s do their work. Bumgarner explained that just like families can arrive home to smell dinner cooking, the dogs can use their noses to find the scent of various drugs.
Bumgarner said that dogs smell people to remember and differentiate them. He explained that dogs have a much more advanced sense of smell and a larger sensory area in their brains to process and remember them. A human uses an area about the size of a postage stamp to process smells, but a dog's is about the size of a piece of paper.
If a person goes in a restaurant, Bumgarner said he or she smells a biscuit, but the dog can smell the flour, eggs, salt, and butter that make up the components of the biscuit. Therefore, if someone tries to hide the smell of drugs with other scents like oil or peanut butter, the dogs are not fooled.
Jackpot, whose nickname is “JP,” is a full-purpose patrol German shepherd, trained in apprehension, article search, tracking, and narcotics detection. Twenty-one month-old "Tito," a black Labrador retriever from England, is an expert in tracking and narcotics detection.
Bumgarner explained that the dogs have both trailing and tracking skills. When trailing, the dogs keep their heads up and follow the “skin rafts,” tiny cornflake-like bits made up of skin cells, hygiene products, bacteria, fungus, parasites, sweat, hormones, and enzymes. The dogs run in a zigzag until they narrow down the scent.
In a tracking situation, the dog’s nose will be to the ground and they smell the odor of the shoe, the skin raft, and freshly broken vegetation to find the target.
A novice officer and dog undergo about 500 hours of training to prepare for their work and then undergo practical evaluation to prove their skills at detecting each kind of narcotic to get fully certified. Bumgarner and "J.P." continue to undergo training every two weeks to keep improving their skills and to stay sharp.
Officers usually have two or more years of experience as a patrol officer before being considered for a K-9 officer position.
"J.P." also has a bulletproof vest that Bumgarner will put on him if a situation could be dangerous.
To determine if a puppy is suited for this kind of training and work, trainers look for high-drive personalities. For example, if a group of puppies sees a toy, only a few will actually stay focused, latch on, and tug and play. That behavior is an indication of a high-drive personality, which is used to turn their job of detecting drugs or tracking into a game that the dogs enjoy.
“They’re just being kids. They like to have fun. They want their ball, or some handlers use treats. They either want their food or to play, like me,” Bumgarner joked.
While training on an odor, the dog indicates it by scratching or sitting or "a lock and hold," and the handler rewards the dog so it associates that odor with a reward, something fun or tasty.
Some puppies can begin training as early as six, but most start at a year old since puppies can still get distracted easily.
Both dogs demonstrated their prowess at narcotic detection for the audience, finding hidden objects in a cart of books, two boxes , and a sofa cushion. Tito used the “find and freeze” technique to alert Sharpe, while "J.P." would stop, nose, and paw at the area for Bumgarner.
These dogs get along and could search together, but some dogs are “alpha” dogs that want to be boss of the scene, according to Bumgarner.
A K-9 lives with his or her handler, so the pair closely bond. “We are with them more than our families since we work, live, and even sleep in the same room,” said Bumgarner.
Bumgarner still has his previous retired K-9 "Zeus," now 13 years old, who retired at age 10. After being initially grumpy at the addition of the playful new pup to the household, "Zeus" and "J.P." now co-exist well.
The sheriff’s office has 12 K-9s, with one more in training. The TPD currently has only one K-9 but is seeking another one now. The dogs are essential tools in detecting drugs, especially on traffic stops. Bumgarner said that unfortunately officers are discovering heroin now as commonly as they find marijuana.
After the demonstration and talk, the thrilled kids lined up for turns to pet both K-9s, receiving enthusiastic licks in return.