EASTON — There is a new pack of K9 cops in town at the Easton Police Department. The dogs are named after fallen Navy Seals from Operation Red Wings. These specially trained dogs can detect amazing things with their super sensitive sense of smell.
The dogs are named after the Navy Seals commemorated in the 2013 film “Lone Survivor” with Mark Wahlberg, which was based on the book by Marcus Luttrell — the only Seal to survive the harrowing mission in Afghanistan.
Murph, Axe and Dietz are the names derived from the Navy Seals. The department has contacted either the family members or the fallen soldier’s foundations to let them know of the K9 program. Kato is the fourth dog to join the EPD.
“We wanted to show respect and do this as a tribute in somebody else’s name who paid the ultimate sacrifice,” said Lt. George Paugh, III patrol division commander for the Easton Police Department. “There was no better way than naming them after the three Navy Seals that were killed in operation Red Wings. The first one was Murph after Lieutenant Mike Murphy. Then there was Dietz after Danny Dietz. And the last one was Axe after Mathew Axelson.
“We wanted to have a dog on each squad,” said Paugh. “We got green dogs who were only trained for obedience. The patrol and narcotics training took 26 weeks. The State Police trained our dogs and that is with dog and handler together.”
The dogs work in coordination with their handlers. The dogs are trained to find drugs and suspects.
“I have got to get him ready to do just a drug search,” said Officer Steve Tindall, who has been working as a canine handler for seven years. “If we are searching for a suspect that is a big difference. He’s gonna gear up because he knows my body language and simple words that we are getting ready to search for a person. If I say, ‘Buddy we are going to search for drugs,’ then he adapts to that. He reads off of you.”
“It’s like turning a light switch on. He is ready to do whatever his command is he is going to respond to that. It’s all about their bond,” said Paugh.
“He has to be at the top of his game health wise, mental wise. Stress is a huge factor in these dogs,” added Tindall.
Every handler takes the dog home with him or her. The police department provides an outdoor-indoor kennel and a concrete slab right at the officer’s home. Tindall said he spends more time with his dog than with his wife and three kids. They consider the dog to be one of their officers. So everything is covered — vet bills, food, the bowls, all the dog’s needs.
“Then you have to outfit a car. You have got to make sure it has a kennel in the back. There is a door pop button. If Kato is in the vehicle and Officer Tindall is outside and needs assistance — maybe he is apprehending someone or someone assaults him, he pops the button. The door comes open and he comes out,” said Paugh.
The police vehicle is also specially set up to monitor temperature inside the cabin to make sure the dogs don’t get too hot.
“The car will actually put the windows open, blow the horn. I have a pager so it will page me,” said Tindall.
The dogs go through additional training as well.
“We also do a 16-hour-a-month training to imprint the dogs for drugs. Narcotics detection, they are trained to detect marijuana, ecstasy, crystal meth, cocaine and heroin. When they detect something, that gives us probable cause and typically you find other stuff like cash, weapons, and paraphernalia,” said Paugh.
“Having the dogs that we have and where our units are at, they definitely provide more safety for the community,” he added. “As far as getting drugs off the street, building searches, it definitely makes it a lot safer to send a dog into a building rather than sending police officer in harm’s way.”
The Easton Police deployed K9s 246 times in 2020.
“The amount of drugs they find is astronomical. He’s had some pretty good seizures. He found hundreds and hundreds of ecstasy pills,” said Tindall.
At a typical traffic stop the K9 can smell through the door. All the way into the glove box, or in a wheel well or behind the seam of a door.
“He gives me the behavior change to alert. I can say we have got a positive alert for the odor of narcotics. That gives me probable cause to search the vehicle. That just shows you how strong these dog’s noses are,” said Tindall.
As a test the officer took 3 grams of tar like heroin in plastic jar and hid it in a cabinet drawer. He let it sit there for five minutes in the closed drawer before he brought Kato in. Kato found it in 30 seconds.
“When he comes into an odor of a narcotic you’ll see him get excited. Ever since he was a puppy, when he smells narcotic his tail goes crazy. The dog will walk around nonchalant and then boom it is like a little kid on Christmas day. We want them to sit so that is a clear communication of where the drugs are. When the lieutenant calls me up, I just hope that we have prepared that dog well enough for this. This could be life threatening. I need my dog to perform at his best level,” said Tindall.
He kept stressing the relationship between the dog and the officer. Both have to be trained to work optimally. He said you can see the bond between dog and handler is tight as rope.
“That dog knows my quirks better than my wife or my kids,” he said.
It takes more than a few people to get these dogs ready to work.
“Thank the Maryland State Police. All the Maryland State canine trainers are just fantastic. Maryland State Police K9 Unit Commander First Sergeant John Beville was great, and Sergeant Thomas,” said Paugh.
One of the people who was instrumental in the primary training of these dogs is Mark Carr. He runs Tydewater Strategic Services. He has been a primary trainer for over 10 years in Church Hill.
“Work in police dogs is my passion. I train Kent County Sheriff’s Office, Caroline County, Federalsburg police, Easton PD, Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office, and Kent County. I have 14 or 15 teams that I train monthly,” he said.
“It’s like training a child really. It is mostly positive reinforcements, but sometimes you need to make a correction. A lot of it is motivational training,” said Carr.
He mostly trains for drug detection and missing persons, but another possible training for these dogs is explosives detection. Also Natural Resources Police uses dogs to find poachers. Sometimes they dogs go in helicopters to find a missing person.
Carr also mentioned dogs being used to detect the odor of cancer in someone’s body.
“The Pennsylvania Vet Hospital is training for coronavirus I’ve heard,” said Carr.
These dogs are worthy of their Red Wings’ names.