July 06--NORTH HAVEN -- She will work for food.
Actually, Koda doesn't have a choice.
The newest member of the Police Department is the kind of police dog who is trained to be rewarded by food. When she smells drugs, she shows her handler Officer Alan Cantele where the drugs are by sitting next to the spot, and in turn, Koda eats from his hand.
Cantele takes the dog on patrol and has exposed the yellow Labrador retriever to the community since May, when she started work after an 11-week training session with the state police. He's walked her through shopping plazas and brought her to elementary schools as part of drug education programs. She is 2 years old and 48 pounds. She joins Zeus, a German shepherd handled by Officer James Brennan, as department canines.
So far, she's made three drug seizures tied to motor vehicle stops and located 2 pounds of marijuana when she was loaned to the state police for a drug investigation, Cantele said.
Police bought the dog for $2,200 from Guiding Eyes for the Blind in New York, then she underwent free training with the state police canine unit. She washed out as a seeing eye dog but is now having a chance for a second career, Cantele said.
"This is like a second lease on life for her," Cantele said.
"She has a high drive for food, which means she has to find drugs to actually eat. Every day I have to hide drugs and she eats. Every day is a training day," he explained.
Cantele has been a North Haven officer for 13 years and being a police dog handler has been the most challenging assignment he's had so far, he said. "It's something I've always wanted to do but it's the hardest thing I've ever done. Learning to work with her, to read how she sniffs. It's a lot more than I anticipated."
During an exercise Thursday morning, Cantele hid two small metal tins that were taped shut that contained small amounts of crack cocaine in a small plastic bag. The tins were hidden among boxes in the police storage garage. He brought the dog inside, and she started sniffing around. She found the locations and sat next to where they were hidden. When Cantele said, "Show me," she sat again. He then fed her a handful of dry dog food.
The dog is trained to sniff out tainted money as well as marijuana, crack cocaine, cocaine, methamphetamine, Ecstasy, hashish and steroids.
To say that Koda is the sweetheart of the department is an understatement.
"She's very friendly and docile," said Police Chief Thomas McLoughlin. "She's a beautiful dog. If you could be guaranteed a dog like that, you'd want her."
"She comes inside (the station) and hangs out with everybody" Cantele said.
The dog lives with Cantele and his family in Wallingford. The family has an 11-year-old chocolate Lab, and the dogs get along great, he said.
"She comes home with me and she's a regular dog, a regular part of the family. When I put my uniform on she knows it's time to go to work," he said.
The dog is available to other departments and the Board of Education, McLoughlin said.
Cops are also getting a kick out of some of Koda's behaviors. When Cantele parks his cruiser in the police lot and gets out of the vehicle, the dog sometimes moves into the driver's seat, and falls asleep at the wheel.
Call Ann DeMatteo at 203-789-5716. Follow her on Twitter at AnnDDeMatteo.
Copyright 2012 - New Haven Register, Conn.