Photo by Christoph Voy
Let me state for once and for all: our dogs are not addicted. Even a small dose of drugs would most likely be lethal for them. Yes, they know the smell, but that’s just from the training, only using small amounts, and never, never administering them drugs for consumption. A junkie dog would be of no use at all for jobs like this.
We train them here using tiny samples of drugs in a sealed plastic tube, which is their “toy”. This plastic roll has tiny holes in it, and is filled with some kind of drug in a sealed container. For the dogs, finding the toy is a game of hide-and-seek. The reward is simply finding their toy. We get fresh samples of drugs from the loot when there is a drug bust, or an arrest. Periodically we get fresh material, because the dogs have to be used to the same stuff that is on the market.
The dogs are trained to scratch the ground when they find something. My dog is a bit strange though. She doesn’t like scratching the ground indoors. She lies down instead to signal that she has found something. Well, dogs really have their own personalities. This dog is also my personal pet. They have to know and trust us. They stay with us until their dying day. We have to finance those ourselves, but that’s okay, they’re really a part of our families.
Recently there was a drug bust in a house in Berlin where a huge amount of cocaine was found. It was worth millions in street value. We brought my dog in to make sure we hadn’t missed any. She signalled a closet. We opened it up and emptied all the drawers, but didn’t find anything. But she kept on kneeling and sniffing at one corner. We took off the bottom of the drawers, and found €40,000 in cash taped between the linings. Evidently, the dealers had handled the drugs and left traces of coke on the cash. That was a good find. I was proud of my dog.
Another time we had a tip for a drug bust. We were sure that there must be huge amounts of drugs hidden in this building. We found the money; we found the equipment for weighing and packaging the drugs. We just couldn’t find the stuff itself anywhere. After investigating the room, my dog was circling around the middle on its hind legs, signaling upward. So we got out a ladder and opened up the roof panels.
Sure enough, the dog was right as rain. I don’t think we would have broken open the ceiling unless she had given us that tip.
EXPLOSIVES & WEAPONS
The Berlin Police department in Spandau has started a pilot project with a Parson Jack Russell specialised in explosives. I am currently training the first dog in the project. Her name is Lily. It’s an interesting breed, originally used in hunting. This new dog is part of a project to find smaller dogs with especially sensitive olfactory capabilities. They are perfect for hunting in small rooms, in cars, in caves, tunnels and on or behind objects where humans or larger dogs simply wouldn’t fit.
Explosives have no scent of their own, not even for dogs. It’s a neutral smell. That makes it hard for them to trace. But they do have an effect on the surrounding air pressure because they create a gaseous field around them. And the dog can detect this change in the air with its nose. Sometimes there are also cheaper explosives using sulphur, and this does have a scent. When a shot has been fired, there is also a trace of explosives that the dogs can detect on the weapon.
An explosives detector costs millions of euros. We can’t afford that kind of technology. And even then, one of those devices will detect all nitrate compounds. The dogs can distinguish much better between explosives and other nitrites. Although one time my dog Lily did find something she thought was some kind of explosive. She scratched at a hotel couch. So we took the couch apart, and only found a dried boulette in there. Just to be sure, we sent this rock hard dried-out boulette off to the lab. And sure enough, there were nitrate compounds in it. Now it’s hard for us to tell if the dog smelled the meatball, and wanted to eat it, or if she was really after the nitrates it contained.
One time we were at a crime scene looking for a murder weapon, and Lily scratched at the bathroom, then at the toilet. We checked the whole area thoroughly, and didn’t find a thing. But she was persistent. We eventually had someone stick their hand DOWN the toilet, and sure enough, there was a gun down there. It was the murder weapon that helped solve the whole case. That’s the thing about dogs, because they don’t have any preconceptions about where something should be, they’ll look more carefully than a human would. They’re really creative, and they keep surprising us.
BLOOD TRACE & CORPSE SEARCHING
Pigs are actually very similar to humans in their fat and protein constitution so we use dead pigs in training. And we tried using this American chemical which would approximate the smell of corpses, but is odourless for humans. But our dogs didn’t react to it very well. They weren’t able to find actual bodies if trained only with that. So we had to use corpse juices [“Leichenflüssigkeit”] in training. It’s a mixture of blood and decomposed organs and lymph fluids. Normally it’s drained out of a body before burial because it rots so quickly. Smells horrible. But we only use a few drops for training. It’s from bodies that are donated to scientific research.
We just had a lady who killed nine babies and buried them in her plant beds. Our dogs found them. Another time, recently, a woman was reported missing. Her husband had committed suicide, but she couldn’t be found anywhere. Our dogs found her in the basement, buried under a huge pile of coal. Recently, there was a boy missing, and we had the dogs looking in the vicinity of his house. My dog started digging at a pile of sand, and pretty soon, I saw there was a foot sticking out. That was quite a shock. The boy had built himself a little hut in the sand, and it had collapsed on him.
While for the drugs and explosives dogs, the toy is the reward, for our dogs it’s the flesh. It sounds a bit awkward but it’s part of their nature, it’s the instinct. For the dogs it’s still a game. But for us, it can be quite unsettling to find a decomposed body, especially when it’s a child.
There was one time that someone jumped in front of a train and committed suicide. Their body was totally crushed to pieces and smeared along a five kilometre track. We had to get dogs in to find all the body parts so that the local children or holidaymakers wouldn’t run into a leg or an ear. Then my dog was so fast and excited that it was actually knawing at this guy’s knuckles before I could stop him.
In the USA, the whole training programme is quite different. They don’t always use real blood in the training process. I think the ethical constraints are higher there. They are interested in our German tradition however. Sometimes the American police import German dogs. Which is interesting actually, because they only respond to German commands.
People are often critical of police dogs, but when there is somebody missing, they’re really glad they’re there and know how to do their job.
OFFICER C—HEAD OF FORENSIC DEPARTMENT
INTERVIEWS BY SHAILOH PHILLIPS