Whether searching for contraband or someone gone missing, canine cops are really up to snuff

DOGGED PURSUIT

November 01, 1997|By CARL SCHOETTLER | CARL SCHOETTLER,SUN STAFF

Sadie, Sadie, the Drug Lady is on patrol, the very image of grace under pressure as she rockets down Route 50 in a Maryland State Police cruiser with Trooper Christina Force at the wheel.

Cool, calm and collected, not to mention well-balanced, Sadie measures up to Hemingway's definition of courage just fine -- even if she is only a mutt.

A sweet mutt, Force points out. And a good cop. Sadie's got a casebook as thick as Frank Pembleton's. She's a great drug sniffer. She's got a great shnozzola.

"I remember one time at the Maryland House, on a bus in a bag, she got a kilo of cocaine that was wrapped in pepper," Force says. "It had 25 zip-top bags around it. Each layer had a can of black pepper. She was able to sniff through the bags and smell the cocaine."

Force and Sadie are two-thirds of a singular all-female search team. Daisy, a bloodhound "man trailer," is their third partner. They are part of the State Police K-9 Unit, which includes 52 other dogs, not to mention 35 handlers like Force.

The trooper, who's 30 but looks younger, is crazy about her dogs -- and about her job.

"I absolutely love it," she says. "I always loved animals as a young child. I think I've found my niche in my career. I've been successful with them. ... It's like my hobby as well as my job, which makes it much more fun."

Force and Sadie go back eight years. "We entered the K-9 program together," says Force, who has been with the Maryland State Police nearly 11 years. Their first assignment was drug interdiction at Baltimore Washington International airport and at bus and train stations.

Sadie's a connoisseur, trained to detect cocaine, crack, heroin and other opiates, marijuana and hashish, and ignore stuff like pepper and Bounce, the laundry softener.

"Lots of people use that to wrap their drugs in," Force says. But Sadie sniffs on undeterred. At BWI, Sadie once sniffed out 40 pounds of marijuana.

"The same thing with U.S. currency," the trooper says. "We do scan U.S. currency for the odor of drugs on the currency. We've gotten lots of currency that way."

State Police dogs train with shredded money sent over by the Bureau of Engraving. Trainers"imprint" the dogs so they are alert to the smell of drugs and not money. Dogs have to be able to distinguish between clean and dirty money to pass their proficiency test.

Walking the beat

At BWI, Sadie sashayed up and down the piers, just on a leash, despite warnings on every door that all dogs must be packed in some kind of carrier.

"People would come up and say: 'Well, how come you don't have to have your dog in a crate?' " Force says.

"I would say, 'Oh, she's a movie star dog. We're flying out to shoot a Walt Disney film and she's a trick dog. She flies first class. She doesn't fly in the belly of an airplane.'

"She would play the role. She would sit up in her little seat at the gate. And they would come up and pet her. In the meantime, she was sniffing." The pair made several arrests that way, Force says.

"Just people who had 'personal use' in their pockets or things like that," she explains. "She would give the alert and I would say: 'Excuse me, I'm Trooper Force ...'

Sadie certainly has star quality, even if she's just "a little mutt": a 45-pound mix of golden retriever, German shepherd and black Lab.

Force, a Kent Island resident, always had a starry-eyed view of police work herself.

"I can never remember wanting to be anything but a police officer," she says. "Even when I was little I didn't want to be a movie star, or a singer, or secretary, or teacher like most little girls. I wanted to be a police officer."

Her inspiration?

"You're going to laugh," she warns. " 'Police Woman,' the television show. Angie Dickinson."

After two years of drug work, bloodhound Daisy came on the scene, and Force got a new assignment, putting on a uniform again (required to work with Daisy) and leaving her undercover work behind.

Both Daisy and Sadie are about 8 years old. Daisy was 2 years old and already trained to trail humans when Force took over as her trainer. They trained together initially for five weeks.

"Really to train me, not her," Force says, although she and the dogs are always in a sort of perpetual refresher course.

On this day, Daisy's back at the Annapolis Barracks, where Force is assigned. Daisy's been displaced by a photographer and a reporter. Force will go back and get her if she gets a call for a search.

Daisy's a purebred bloodhound.

"You have to have a pure bloodhound for court purposes," Force says. "The reason being that a bloodhound is the only animal that's allowed to testify in court."

How does a dog testify in court? the photographer asks.

"Their work is accepted by case law in court," she says. "What makes them unique is they can scent-discriminate."

She explains that each of us gives off 50 million dead skin cells a second. They're called "skin rafts" and they're invisible to the human eye.

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