MADISON, Wis. – Because of the growing risk fentanyl has for police K-9s during drug searches, the Madison Police Department is exercising more caution in their use and, in some cases, not allowing the dogs to be involved.
The presence of fentanyl has been growing in the last year in southern Wisconsin as it is used to cut heroin and cocaine.
The Madison Police Department has eight specially trained K-9s. Seven are dual-purpose K-9s trained to search for narcotics, track humans and search buildings. One of the K-9s is used for bomb detection.
Officer Jim Donnell is a K-9 handler and works with his partner, Krahnie, a 6-year-old German shepherd.
“She’s been a good asset to not only the department, but the community itself. Honestly I couldn’t tell you how many pounds (of illegal drugs) she has located over her short career already,” said Officer Donnell.
But as the risk of fentanyl has grown, the risk to the K-9s has grown with it.
“We’ve become a little more cautious with how we utilize the dogs on the street, when they are doing sniffs,” said Sgt. Jeff Felt, the officer in charge of the K-9 unit.
Because K-9s use their strong sense of smell it locate illegal drugs, they are at an enhanced risk of overdose if they come in contact with airborne fentanyl.
“Certainly if we have any indication that fentanyl is involved, that’s going to be something that the dogs aren’t going to be involved with. We’re going to hand search it,” said Sergeant Felt.
That doesn’t mean the K-9s are not going to be used to search for illegal drugs, they simply will be used in ways that reduce the risk of an overdose.
“On a vehicle search, we have Krahnie sniff the exterior of the vehicle and she indicates if there is an odor of drugs in the vehicle. Then what we’ll do is most likely have the officers go in and actually use their eyes to see it so she’s not using her nose to get in there and expose her to the potential dangers of the fentanyl,” said Donnell.
To further protect the K-9s, Madison police carry Narcan, which can be used to revive the dogs if they inadvertently come in contact with fentanyl.
The K-9 officers emphasis that any change will not diminish their ability to search for illegal drugs.
“Oh no, we’ll still find them. We’ll still find them. It is just a different technique we’ll have to use as far as using the dogs. It’s a little more cautious, but we’re still doing the same work,” said Officer Donnell.