Pot le­gal­iza­tion puts older drug-sniff­ing K-9s into re­tire­ment

Lexington Herald-Leader (Sunday) - - News - BY STACY COW­LEY

Of­fi­cer Tulo will turn in his badge in Jan­uary, forced into early re­tirethan ment by the coun­try’s wan­ing war on weed.

In his eight years with the po­lice depart­ment of Ri­fle, Colorado, Tulo, a yel­low Labrador re­triever, has helped with more 170 ar­rests in the town of 9,000. But one of his old-fash­ioned skills hasn’t just fallen out of de­mand since the state le­gal­ized mar­i­juana, it has be­come a li­a­bil­ity: State court rul­ings mean that Tulo’s keen nose for pot im­per­ils his work on other drug cases.

As states and cities loosen their drug laws, the highly trained dogs their po­lice de­part­ments use to sniff out nar­cotics can’t al­ways be counted on to smell the right thing.

“A dog can’t tell you, ‘Hey, I smell mar­i­juana’ or ‘I smell meth,’ ” said Tommy Klein, Ri­fle’s po­lice chief. “They have the same be­hav­ior for any drug that they’ve been trained on. If Tulo were to alert on a car, we no longer have prob­a­ble cause for a search based on his alert alone.”

Older ca­nine work­ers across the coun­try – and 14 nar­cotics dogs in Canada, where re­tail mar­i­juana sales be­gan last month – are be­ing eased out of the labor force. When the po­lice depart­ment in Win­nipeg, Man­i­toba, went shop­ping this year for a pup, the Belgian Mali­nois they chose, named Ivy, ar­rived with a more mod­ern ad­van­tage: She has no re­ac­tion to mar­i­juana.

In many places that have le­gal­ized the drug, most new re­cruits are, like Ivy, no longer be­ing trained to sniff out pot. And even de­part­ments in states where mar­i­juana re­mains ver­boten are hedg­ing their bets.

“I just did a dog for a depart­ment in Texas that asked me not to put mar­i­juana on her,” said Ron Cloward, owner of Top Dog Po­lice K-9 Train­ing and Con­sult­ing in Modesto, Cal­i­for­nia. “They had the feel­ing there could be some changes com­ing there, and they wanted to plan ahead.”

In Colorado, an ap­peals court rul­ing in 2017 helped has­ten Tulo’s re­tire­ment. Kilo, a drugde­tec­tion dog in ru­ral Mof­fat County, flagged a man’s truck for con­tain­ing con­tra­band. When of­fi­cers searched it, they found a pipe with what ap­peared to be metham­phetamine residue.

But Kilo was trained to find mul­ti­ple drugs, in­clud­ing mar­i­juana. Even though no mar­i­juana was found in the truck, the three-judge panel said Kilo’s sig­nal was no longer a re­li­able in­di­ca­tor of il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity. The court ruled that of­fi­cers there­fore had no le­gal grounds to search the truck, and over­turned the con­vic­tion.

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