Chambers County Sheriff’s Office stops by Valley Kiwanis

Published 4:34 pm Thursday, September 5, 2019

VALLEY — The Chambers County Sheriff’s Department is nearing the 20th anniversary of training drug dogs as valuable and beloved members of its law enforcement staff.

The first one, Nero, was handled by Vic Anthony in 2000. The department’s best-known drug dog, Narco, came along in 2001. Mike Parrish was his handler, and Narco was killed in the line of duty in 2003. During a drug arrest, he jumped in front of a shotgun blast that was meant for a deputy.

Major T.J. Wood and Sgt. Caleb Calhoun talked about the sheriff’s office drug dog program during Wednesday’s Kiwanis Club of Valley meeting.

Email newsletter signup

Wood handled two of the department’s dogs, Ace and Kilo. Both died of natural causes after having served the department extremely well.

“You get so attached to your dog,” Wood said. “When they pass away, it’s like losing a member of your family. I just couldn’t do it anymore after Kilo died.”

Wood said dogs have a sense of smell like no other animal.

“Humans have an estimated six million smell receptors in their noses,” he said. “Dogs have 250 million in their noses, and they have different types of receptors. Someone can walk into a room and smell stew cooking on a stove. A dog who is with them can smell the broth, the carrots, onions and everything else that’s cooking in it. Humans perceive the world with their eyes; dogs perceive the world with their noses.”

The sheriff’s office currently has two dogs. Calhoun is the handler for Ice, and Keegan Daniel is the handler for Otos.

Drug dogs aren’t cheap. It can cost around $10,000 to get one, and then there’s the expense of training, travel to get them, specialized care from a veterinarian and outfitting the car for the dog’s needs. But there’s a huge upside.

“They more than pay for themselves with the forfeitures they bring the department,” Calhoun said.

One example is a drug arrest that was made on Interstate 85 within the past couple of years. Someone affiliated with a Mexican drug cartel was pulled over on the interstate for a traffic violation. The K9 officer was called, the drug dog searched the vehicle and found marijuana along with $255,000.

“We’ve seized several vehicles, and we’ve had increments of money that add up,” Calhoun said. “Sometimes federal agencies help us out, and they get a share.”

The one type of drug that’s dangerous for drug dogs is the opioid fentanyl and its derivatives.

“We have canine doses of Narcan and carry it in the vehicle with us,” Calhoun said. “It’s the same antidote for humans and dogs, but it’s administered differently.”

Some 16 years after his demise, Narco remains Chambers County’s hero dog.

“He made the case for why we needed drug dogs when he found a missing child near West Point Lake,” Wood said. “The child had wandered away from his parents, but Narco was able to find him safe and sound. These dogs are well trained and can do more than find drugs.”

Ice is an eight-year-old Belgian Malinois. He was born in Holland and obeys commands given in the Dutch language. He had a passport when he arrived in the U.S. He’s been with the CCSO since 2012, and Calhoun has been his handler for the past two-and-a-half years.

“He works Chambers County and surrounding areas when called on,” Calhoun said. “We have been deployed more than 75 times. Ice and Otos are part of the sheriff office family. Sometimes, Keegan and I spend more time with our dogs than we do with our families. They become very attached to their handler. Ice follows my every move. If I am outside cutting grass, he’s inside the house watching me from a window.”

Wood believes that dogs can talk, but only to those who take the time to understand them.

“You need to take the time to understand what they are trying to tell you,” he said.

The highlight of the program was when Calhoun brought Ice in to meet everyone.

At the present time, there are three drug dogs in Chambers County. Ice and Otos are in service with the CCSO and Goose is handled by Officer Lawrence Howell of the Valley Police Department.

One of the CCSO’s previous dogs, Audra, was given to the department by the military. She was afraid of loud noises, something she would encounter a lot at Fort Benning.

“She did a great job for us,” Wood said, adding that he did have one very memorable search with her. “We were called out on a bomb scare, and I was with her when we searched the building. Bomb-sniffing dogs are trained to sit down if they ever find a bomb. When Audra did that when I was handling her that day I thought I was going to have to make them another exit.”

Luckily, there was no bomb that day.

Wood adds that drug dogs like people and likes to be petted. It’s a good idea, though, to check with the dog’s handler before putting your hands on him.