Jackson County Sheriff’s Department gets new drug-sniffing dog

By Gus Bode

Drug traffickers beware:There’s a new dog in Jackson County Sheriff Department’s K-9 unit.

Hoyce, a black Labrador retriever, proved useful Monday morning, when he helped deputies find a man who hid after fleeing from a stolen car at the intersection of Illinois 149 and Highway 51.

“It was a lot of work,” said Deputy Shauna Taylor, Hoyce’s handler. “We ran a lot.”

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Taylor has been with the department since 2002 but said she has a lifetime of experience with dogs.

Hoyce returned from Brodie Canine Training Center in Liberty, Tenn., on Nov. 22. He spent eight weeks learning to sniff out drugs, track scents and search for lost objects.

When Taylor commands Hoyce to “Find the dope!” the dog responds by sniffing the air, picking up traces of scents that may be far too faint for humans to detect.

Even though Hoyce helps deputies find marijuana, LSD, methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin, he does not smell the actual drug, just its components.

For instance, if Hoyce is searching a person’s belongings, Taylor said he might alert her to a bottle of aspirin because cocaine is often cut with it, or a package of cold medicine, a key ingredient of meth.

Hoyce is also a great companion. Taylor, who feeds, trains, plays with and takes the dog home, said the relationship between canine and officer is extremely important.

“The dog loves to work and wants to be happy and play all the time,” Taylor said. “If you’re not excited, your dog’s not going to be excited.”

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Hoyce is trained by positive reinforcement, which rewards good behavior. He receives his beloved ball as the reward for finding a scent upon the command to “Find the dope!” “Search!” or “Track him!”

Hoyce, however, cannot find the dope by himself. Dogs detect scents based on the flow of air currents, and different drugs’ scents disperse in different directions. The scent of heroin rises, for instance, while cocaine’s drops, Taylor said.

Hoyce has been trained as a single purpose dog, which means he does not attack or bite. Taylor would not expect him to bite anyone, even if he was scared. She said black labs make good drug dogs because they are nice to people and are hard-working. The downside is they get stir-crazy and need constant stimulation.

Taylor exercises the dog’s abilities every day. She uses pseudo-drugs, which smell just like the real thing to Hoyce, to keep his sense of smell keen. Other times she sharpens his searching and tracking abilities by having him find objects, such as keys or a lighter hidden in her yard. Taylor said it takes Hoyce 15 to 20 minutes to track a scent for half a mile.

It’s no surprise that Jackson County Sheriff Robert Burns calls Hoyce a great law enforcement tool. Burns said the dog’s abilities give the department an advantage in tracking escaped prisoners, finding missing persons and recovering ditched evidence.

Reporter Rafal Kos can be reached at [email protected]

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