Authors: Chloe Kendrick
Nothing To Sniff At
Animal Instincts, Book 5
Copyright © 2014
Published by: Rascal Hearts
All Rights Reserved
. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.
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Book Cover By: Rosy E. Fisher
The Beagle sat in front of me as if nothing were wrong. He seemed like a happy and healthy specimen, but he’d been brought to talk to me because of an issue. He sniffed at my hands and arms as I patted him. His big ears hung down, but he seemed attuned to what we were saying.
“My sniffer dog is broken,” said one of Port Clinton’s finest. He was a bigger man with the look of a former football player who kept the memories but not the physical regimen. He had dark, short cropped hair speckled with gray. He wore a look that was decidedly worried. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of his statement.
He’d brought Barkley, one of the sniffer dogs for the Port Clinton Police Department, to talk to me. While Port Clinton, which is forty miles East of Toledo and the home of only about six thousand people, might not seem like it had a need for a sniffer dog, the fact remains that it sits on the edge of Lake Erie, and wherever there’s a body of water, there’s a chance for people to float across it smuggling drugs.
So while a small town might not seem like it had a need for dogs who had been trained to sniff out drugs, Port Clinton had broken up a few drug rings in its time. Drugs came down from Canada, across the waters and into small towns along the Northern border of Ohio. There were numerous groups of Canadian gangs, all wanting to make some cash off of American customers. This month, the drug of choice was heroin, which was alarmingly cheap and in good supply. Heroin seemed to be replacing the crystal meth market, and was that much more addictive than previous drugs.
The fact that the police department, which like many across Ohio had seen cutbacks in the last four years, needed a drug dog told me more than I needed to know. The war on drugs was not winning here. Barkley was a valuable asset to the team who stopped drugs coming across the lake. I’d read of him a few times in the
Courts have long ruled that identification by a drug dog was probable cause for a search. So any boat or other vehicle identified by Barkley as carrying drugs could be searched, the drugs seized and the sellers arrested. Of course, any property used in the trafficking of drugs was subject to confiscation, meaning that Barkley more than paid for his kibble.
Beagles are one of the few sniffer dogs that can be trained to do multiple jobs. Mostly, they’re used to sniff out contraband drugs, bombs, and corpses, but they can be trained for nearly any type of smelling job. Their noses are reportedly one thousand times more sensitive than human noses, and Beagles have big noses. They don’t sniff in the same way that we do. Just like we can look at something and break it into its component parts, dogs can do the same with smell. So they can smell the techniques used to hide drugs as well as the drugs themselves. All that means is that most techniques used to mask smells are ineffective in stopping dogs from smelling the drugs. You can rub a baggie of marijuana in dirt, feces, and skunk scent, and Barkley could separate those from the drugs.
Of course, they’re not perfect. Depending on who you listen to, dogs are anywhere from 30-75% accurate. Most of the remaining cases are false positives, where the dog barks when nothing is there. Many times, you hear cases where the handler tells the dog to bark in order to gain access to the premise or possessions of a suspect. False negatives were rarer. While the dogs weren’t full-proof, they provided a service to the police department. I had never once heard of a drug dog that lost its training or sense of smell. I couldn’t imagine what would have happened to this dog to make it stop smelling.
I examined the dog and stared into his eyes for a moment. He appeared happy and healthy as he let out a bark that nearly broke an eardrum. Beagles, who were originally trained to be hunting dogs, have a unique and showy bark. I couldn’t complain too much, because barking seems to be what Beagles were best at. I’d had a Beagle growing up, so I was used to the distinctive bark they had. I just wasn’t used to it at close range.
“I was hoping you could tell me what he says about his ailment,” asked Officer Mark Brate, who watched my every move like I was going to pull a rabbit out of a hat instead. For those who suspect otherwise, I don’t do magic in my profession. I talk to pets and help their owners understand what is wrong with them. Pets have their own set of expressions and mannerisms that can be read and interpreted if you know what you’re doing.
“How do you know he can’t sniff out drugs anymore?” I asked. “If he didn’t find them, then how did you know to look for them? It could be a long time before anyone would notice that he’d lost his sense of smell.”
The officer drew a deep sigh. “It’s an embarrassing story. We were doing a sweep, and Barkley here declared that it was clean. There’s a German Shepherd from Erie County that those guys are always trying to say is better than Barkley. The guys from Erie came by and had their dog with them. After Barkley declared the place clean, then they let their dog sniff the grounds. He found a major shipment of heroin within about five minutes of getting there.”
“Do you think that it could have been a set-up? Just to show you up?” I asked, knowing how petty people could be about their pets and whose dog was the best. A comparison like this could be used for bragging rights.
“If it hadn’t been a case like this, I would have said maybe, but in this case, if the guys from Erie County hadn’t come along and found it, these drugs would have been distributed to the upper part of the state. It’s a huge chance to take, just to show up someone else’s dog, you know?”
I nodded. There were limits to what people would do to show their superiority, but I thought I still might take a visit to the Erie County police and see about their dog. It could be an interesting coincidence that they were on-site or it could have been their plan.
“So did you find out how they knew to be there?” I checked a few other indicators on the dog to see about his overall health, but he seemed fine. Nothing clearly visible was wrong with him. I wanted to keep the conversation going so that I could learn more before making any announcements about what Barkley had to say.
“I asked about that, and they were cagey. One of the officers I know, Adam McNabb, told me that it was an anonymous phone call that sounded legit, but another officer told me that the tip came from a CI. It can’t have been both. Either they knew who it was, or they didn’t.” His shoulder slumped, telling me that he was defeated by what was happening to his K9 partner.
“How did you know to go there? Did you have a tip also?” I asked. There seemed to be a lot of nebulous data going on here.
“Yeah, someone called in and told us that a major shipment was coming in disguised as computer hardware. So we met the ship at the dock and Barkley sniffed around.”
“No idea who it was?”
Brate shook his head. “None at all. We get messages all the time that we can’t identify. We have to determine if they seem credible or not.”
I nodded. My interactions with Detective Sheila Green had allowed me some insight into how these investigations went. There was a lot of luck and knowing whose word to trust in police work. The Erie police should have had their stories straight before they came to the scene. Now the divergent stories and the number of anonymous calls made me suspicious.
Of course, I’d never get anything by approaching the Erie police directly. I’d have to find a way to learn about how Erie police knew to bring their K9 there from a less direct channel. I doubted that Sheila Green would help me to find out about the tip. I’d be on my own for this one, possibly pulling off another magic trick to talk to Barkley.
Some would say that I do execute feats of magic with my skills at talking to animals. Others, including my friend and potential romantic interest, Detective Sheila Green, called me a charlatan. I had the ability to look at a situation, determine certain cues that allowed me to make firm inferences and then announce those inferences as the animal talking to me. While some might call that fraud, it was a way of me communicating with our beloved pets – and it earned me a decent living as well. I owned two dogs and a cat, and I spent a few hours a day observing their behavior. I knew how pets behaved and how they reacted.
Right now, I was sweating because Barkley the Beagle looked perfectly normal. No signs of any traumas to the nose. When I was scratching Barkley under the chin, I didn’t see any signs of powders or other substances on the nose. No signs of other traumas to the animal. I was officially stumped as to the cause of his problem.
Usually the way to fool a drug dog was to mask the scent of drugs, not to disable the canine. I’d read that if drugs were put in Tupperware or another sealed container shortly before the area was sniffed by a dog that they might not be discovered. It’s only when the drugs’ scent has time to seep through the plastic that the dog can smell the scent and alert their handlers.
I looked the dog over again and found nothing to indicate why the dog couldn’t smell. I took a spray bottle of scent, and the dog could easily smell the aroma. So it wasn’t a lack of ability to smell. It was specific to the lack of ability to smell drugs. It was as if Barkley had totally forgotten his police training.
The dog licked my face as I sat there with it. I turned and looked at Officer Brate. “The dog isn’t sure why it can’t smell. He asked me to spray something, and I did. The dog can smell that aroma; however, he just doesn’t know why he can’t smell drugs. He’s as puzzled as you are.”
Brate flushed. “I thought you were supposed to figure things out. I thought that you advertised that you can talk to dogs.” His words were hostile, and I didn’t want to upset a police officer, since I was dating one of Toledo’s detectives.
I looked at him. “I can talk to the animals, but honestly if they don’t know why something happened, they can’t tell me about it. Just like with any other case, the evidence is only as good as the witnesses. He says he feels fine. He just can’t do his job.”
Brate sat there, turning his head slightly from the dog to me and back again. “So I’m at a loss here. I guess we’re just going to have to retrain him to smell these things again. That process takes a long time. I won’t be able to hide that from the department. They’ll have to know.”
“That’s one option certainly. I can ask around and see if anyone else has had similar problems to this – if you’d like?”
“That would be great. Training isn’t cheap, and you know how the state funds are. I’d hate to think that the press or lawmakers would get a whiff of this, no pun intended, and decide that this program isn’t worth the money any more. Anything you could do to help would be appreciated. I’d like for you to do a ride-along too at some point, so you can see what I’m talking about in action. I thought this would cover that as well.”
Brate took out a checkbook and wrote me a check for one hundred dollars. It wouldn’t pay my bills, but it was a good start to this case. I had a few other clients at the moment, so I would definitely be busy for the next few weeks. I was never at a loss for work at this point in my career. Families were always calling to ask why their pet was acting funny.
Barkley gave another window-shaking bark, and they left the house. Both of my Corgis had left the room when the Beagle had arrived. My dogs don’t like loud noises and tried to avoid them at all costs. My cat, The Countess, didn’t bother with dogs in general. They returned now and sniffed everywhere that the Beagle had been.
The relative quiet of the house left me feeling pensive. I hadn’t had much down time in the past few months, and I had grown somewhat suspicious of it. The silence felt like a calm before all hell breaking loose, and it worried me. I looked around for something to fill the next few hours.
We made an appointment for me to take Barkley to the vet. Brate hadn’t taken him for any kind of check-up yet, which was a surprise. It would have been the first thing that I would have done in the situation. However, he’d been more focused on getting this resolved without the notice of his superiors or the public. If Barkley were to be questioned now about his abilities, those questions would follow him throughout the rest of his career as a sniffer dog. So we’d decided that I would escort Barkley to a vet appointment later this afternoon with little fanfare.
Until then, I did some research on forgetting how to smell. There’s not much information on dogs who forget their skills. Typically with a little refresher, dogs can be reminded of previously learned skills. I wondered if a one- or two-day course might help Barkley remember his purpose in the department.
Brate wanted this resolved as fast as possible, so I’d agreed to pick the Beagle up at 3pm and take him to the vet who contracted with the county to treat the K9 unit. Dr. Michaelson was well-known to most of the breeders and dog lovers in the area. He’d been a fixture in Port Clinton for nearly fifty years.
I was at the police station at 2:30, picked up Barkley and headed off to the vet. As always, the vet’s office was full of thoroughly unsocialized animals who wanted to sniff, cough and examine Barkley. He was a remarkably calm dog, and he took all the attention in stride. He sat at my feet and ignored the other pets.
Dr. Michelson had to be in his mid-70s, but he walked with the step of a much younger man. He came into the examining room and smiled. “Not who I was expecting to see with Barkley. He and Brate are practically inseparable.” He shook my hand, asked about my business in a very nonjudgmental voice, and then asked after Officer Brate. We followed him into one of the examination rooms that lined the long hallway which ended in the entrance to his office.