May 2, 2016 5:06 PM

NH1 News Investigates Addiction Front Lines: NH's K-9 crime fighters making a difference

“At home they’re our pets but when it’s time to go to work, I put my duty belt on and once I put my radio on, she jumps out of that recliner does a stretch. She comes over, jumps up, I put her collar on her head and we go to work.” – Patrol Sgt. Adam Shaw, Wells PD, Maine

Man’s best friend is one of law enforcement’s greatest assets in battling the drug epidemic in New Hampshire. Our NH1 News Special Investigative Series: Addiction Front Lines continues tonight, with a spotlight on K-9 Crime Fighters.

For thirteen years, Officer Keith Mackenzie of the Rochester Police Department has patrolled the streets as part of the K-9 unit. He says fighting on the front lines of the drug epidemic keeps them extremely busy.

“We’re a lot more active these days, unfortunately,” says MacKenzie.

Fortunately, MacKenzie’s two partners—Daisy Mae and Phlirt—literally have the nose for detecting drugs, dealers and users don’t want them to find.

“They try taco seasoning, fabric sheets, coffee grinds, gasoline—it’s all the stuff they try hiding drugs in, but the dogs smell seven odors at a time,” says MacKenzie. He adds, “That’s why the dog’s nose is so valuable. We smell one odor. So, if I stuck my nose in taco seasoning. I would only smell taco seasoning. I wouldn’t smell the weed or heroin. The dogs process those odors.”

As the head narcotics trainer with the Working Dog Foundation, Mackenzie helps turn that natural talent into a crime-fighting tool for law enforcement agencies across the region.

“They come every Monday and we put thousands of hours in our dogs,” says MacKenzie.

“With the dogs, it’s a totally different game,” says Sgt. Shaw, who travels from Maine to New Hampshire every Monday to train with his dog Proxy.

Basically, the game is hide-and-go-seek. First, the dogs learn to detect the scent of hard drugs—including meth, cocaine and heroin.

Officers take the drugs—on loan from the DEA lab in Washington DC—tuck them into these chew-proof “narc-safe” pouches, and hide them in the types of places they’d be called in to search. When the dogs find them, they’re rewarded with fun time, which usually involves a ball or a squeaky toy.

“As she’s running back, she’s relating that odor to fun,” says Shaw.

“We keep it fun for the dogs,” says MacKenzie. He adds, “As soon as it stops being fun for the dogs, then they’re not going to do their jobs very well.”

“We look like fools as far as that goes,” says Shaw. “We can at times look like fools, as we’re rewarding the dog.”

It’s a process that builds strong skills and potentially life-saving partnerships these officers rely on every day they’re on the job.

“The dogs have helped me out several times – twice which I can think of,” says MacKenzie.

“I drive around at night, and Phlirt, my little yellow lab, puts her paw on my shoulder all night,” says MacKenzie. “If I stop the car to go to a traffic stop, both dogs are up and watching. So, they’ve got my back. They love me, so I got to love them.”

These dogs are also used in searches. In fact, Officer Mackenzie and Daisy Mae were called in on a manhunt in Northern Maine to find an armed murder suspect. They found him in about 90 minutes. That just happens to be one of the reasons Mackenzie was named New Hampshire’s Officer of the Year in 2015.

So far, the Working Dog Foundation has trained more than 200 police K-9s. Right now, 17 teams are training with the organization from law enforcement agencies in New Hampshire and Maine.

Follow me on Twitter and Facebook and I’ll share some great behind-the-scenes videos of these officers and their amazing dogs.

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