We love our dogs and apparently the public does too. For my column this month, I’m going to talk about one of our most popular units here at the Sheriff’s Office, and that’s our Canine Unit. Anywhere I go and anyplace I visit on the Central Coast, almost invariably I will get a question about our K9’s.

I want to give you a little background on our K9 unit. The modern Sheriff’s K9 unit actually began in 2001 with the deployment of K9 Jake, who served as an active duty narcotics detection specialist until 2009. In 2010, the Sheriff’s Office purchased its next narcotics detection K9, Jack. Jack is assigned to Senior Deputy Al Barger within the Sheriff’s Special Operations Unit.

In 2011, I decided to expand the canine program by adding four additional cross-trained patrol dogs. These dogs are capable of detecting narcotics, protecting their handler, apprehending suspects, and tracking and locating missing persons.

Today, our unit consists of six K9’s and their handlers. Of those, four are patrol dogs and two are drug detection dogs. In addition to K9 Jack, we have two K9’s at our North Station in Templeton, one K9 at our South Station in Oceano, one assigned to our Coast Station in Los Osos and one assigned to our Custody Division.

These dogs are amazing. The drug detection K9’s are rated as 100% proficient in their detection of cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, opium and marijuana odors. Because their keen sense of smell is much better than the average person’s, these K9’s are able to sniff out narcotics even if the narcotics are wrapped in a sealed container or being smuggled inside a jar of peanut butter. For example, if you or I smell a hamburger, we might smell the cooked meat and that’s all. But our specially trained K9’s can smell each layer of the hamburger, the meat, the tomato, the pickles, the ketchup and the bun.

To give you an idea of how good these K9’s really are, all you have to do is look at the stats. Last year, they were involved in 724 searches, 85 arrests, and 18 apprehensions. They recovered 2,753 grams of methamphetamine, 231 grams of heroin and almost 9,000 grams of marijuana.

When one of our dogs is sent to search for a criminal suspect, the K9 goes right to work. Let’s say the suspect is hiding in a home that he’s just burglarized. The K9’s handler will issue a command, letting the suspect know, that the K9 is being sent in to apprehend the suspect. Many times, the suspect will give simply themselves up, just because of the threat the K9 poses. The K9’s can be fearsome when they need to be.

But they can also be as sweet and gentle as your household pet. When we hold our annual Sheriff’s Family Day at the Ranch in San Luis Obispo, we proudly put our K9’s on display. They love the attention they get from the public and especially little children. The K9’s are specially trained to know when they need to work and when it’s time to play. They are terrific ambassadors for the Sheriff’s Office.

Our goal is to expand the K9 Unit. They have become great partners for our Deputies. The dogs don’t talk much, never take a vacation, and all you have to pay them is a little bit of kibble. The dogs are also a great resource for the Sheriff’s Office. So let us “paws” for a moment and thank them for their service.