Everything Animals: Police K-9 teams lead the pack - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Everything Animals: Police K-9 teams lead the pack

Trooper Bob Giolito and K-9 Mitch apprehend a suspect inside a barn. Trooper Bob Giolito and K-9 Mitch apprehend a suspect inside a barn.
K-9 Drager combs a barn for drugs. K-9 Drager combs a barn for drugs.
A bag of methamphetamine located by K-9 Drager. A bag of methamphetamine located by K-9 Drager.
K-9 teams practice bite work. K-9 teams practice bite work.

Addison, Vermont - July 26, 2011

Two wanted felons are on the loose in Addison. They have drugs and cash and no desire to be caught by Vermont State Police. But they're no match for the K-9 team.

"State Police K-9 Unit!" Trooper Wayne Godfrey yells at the door of a barn that K-9 Mitch has led the team to. "Come out now or you will get bit! This is your last chance!"

From inside, a sound: "Alright man, don't bite me!"

As Trooper Bob Giolito and K-9 Mitch keep watch, the suspect slowly walks out of the building with his hands up, gets down on his knees and then on his stomach, ready to be cuffed.

But on closer look, the suspect appears to be wearing police officer's clothing. That's because he is, in fact, a police officer and this entire scenario is part of an elaborate training drill for the K-9 teams, one which is only performed four times a year.

Vermont's 18 K-9 officers use this quarterly scenario-based training to keep all their skills sharp, from tracking and apprehending suspects to sniffing out bombs and drugs.

That's the task first assigned to K-9 Drager and his handler, Trooper Richard Slusser. Once the "suspect" surrendered, police searched him and found no drugs. That led them to determine the drugs were hidden somewhere in the barn. Drager combs the barn, sniffing high and low, barking when he smells drugs.

"He was able to locate 108 grams of marijuana in a high find," Trooper Justin Busby says, holding up a bag Drager found perched atop a wire cage.

In addition to the marijuana, K-9 Drager located 25 grams of cocaine, $460 in cash, 78 grams of ecstasy, 50 bags of heroin and 40 grams of crystal methamphetamine. All of the drugs used in these drills were obtained during busts and arrests.

State police say these drills are crucial exercises because the skills the dogs are practicing are being put to use more and more every day. That's because the number of cases that K-9's are called out on is growing.

"The reality is we're dealing with more crime scenes," says Lt. Gary Genova, who leads the K-9 teams. "We're dealing with cases that require the use of cadaver dogs more frequently."

To meet that need, state police recently obtained two new dogs that are specially trained to detect human remains. They're currently at work on the case of missing Essex couple Bill and Lorraine Currier, who haven't been seen since June 8.

For K-9s and their handlers every day presents possible dangers. At crime scenes they're usually leading the pack. There are even dangers during routine training, especially when the dogs have to practice apprehending a suspect.

"What we have here is a bite sleeve," Trooper Busby says, holding up a sleeve that feels reinforced with cast iron. "It's a protective training tool we use because, well, for obvious reasons. We don't have any spare arms laying around."

The sleeve is necessary because dogs apprehend suspects using their teeth and they have to practice their bite response.

Vermont's K-9 teams say the reality of working with a dog is that you're on the job around the clock.

"24-7 he is with you," Trooper Slusser says of Drager. "I take a shower, he's right there on the floor. He will not leave my side."

But with that togetherness comes an unshakable bond.

Reporter Rachel Feldman: "What would he do if he saw you being attacked?"

Trooper Slusser: "He would kill himself to save me. Period."

Now that's a partner worth protecting.

Rachel Feldman - WCAX News

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