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Canine Crime Fighters: Drug dogs becoming a valuable asset to ADDU

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY -- Coco and Ross are two of Albany Dougherty Drug Unit's hardest working agents. Not only are they reliable, team oriented, and dedicated, they both have a nose for drugs not to mention four paws and shiny coat.

Victor Camp and Shirley Adams know the importance of their hairy partners, Coco and Ross, and the sometimes unbelievable work they do for the drug unit.

Camp, whose partner is five-year-old Coco, said the black shepherd is always excited and eager to work.

"She's just like a human partner," he said. "She rides with me and we talk."

Camp demonstrated how Coco signals for drugs during an interview with The Herald in which the black shepherd signaled to varying amounts of methaphetamine hidden among ADDU's parking lot.

Coco waited patiently as Camp hid meth in various places and when given the signal to begin work she immediately set out to find the drugs with much tail-wagging and speed.

Adams, who was also at the demonstration, said a person could tell the bond and trust between a handler and a dog by the dog's reaction.

"They have a close bond," she said of Camp and Coco. "He doesn't even have to use a leash (to guide her). You know the partnership is working when the dog can block any outside stimuli and focus on the job they are being asked to do."

Adams said that both dogs have different personalities, much like their owners.

"Ross is a more aggressive dog," she said. "He is very protective of me."

Adams said that the longer a dog is with their handler the more protective they become.

"You build that bond with them and eventually they become your family," she said.

Adams said Ross, a Czech shepherd, has come to know various officers voices on ADDU's radios.

"He can hear the tone of someone's voice and know who it is and if they are excited he gets excited. He knows he is about to work," she said. "Ross even starts barking sometimes when he feels the car accelerate because he knows something is happening."

ADDU Commander Major Bill Berry said both dogs are priceless tools for the drug unit.

"They are excellent tools," he said. "They do the work that we as humans can't. They can find where someone has hidden drugs where we may overlook."

Berry said Coco and Ross work 24 hours a day and switch off on weekly duty.

"One dog takes one week and the other takes the other week," he said.

Berry said the dogs train at least twice a week and the handlers use real drugs in training.

"A lot of people think that the dogs are addicted," said Adams. "That's not true. It is part of our jobs (as handlers) to make sure the dog never ingest or breathes in the actual drug."

Coco and Ross are trained to alert to drugs passively, meaning that they sit when they smell drugs and stare at the direction to drug's location.

"We don't allow them to actively alert," said Berry. "That's where they claw at the location where the drugs are."

Active alerting can lead to injury or destruction of property.

"The dogs are also not allowed to search people," said Berry. "It about safety for the person and for the dog. There is a great chance the dog might get excited and bite the person or the person may not like dogs and try and injure them."

Any building or automobile that is searched for drugs by Coco and Ross must be emptied of all people, said ADDU agents.

Both Ross and Coco were bought for the ADDU through asset forfeiture, meaning money seized by the drug unit in raids.

Camp and Adams also have specialized cruisers that are made for their furry partners in mind.

"There cars have what is called Hot Dog," said Berry. "If the car ever gets to a certain temperature where the dog is too hot the windows roll down automatically and fans come on. The car also sends a beep to the officer to let them know that their dog might be getting too hot."

The Albany Humane Society purchased the alert system for the canines after an unfortunate incident a few years back.

"A dog had died when he was left in the car in the parking lot," said Berry. "His partner had come into the building only meaning to be in her for a few minutes and got tied up and lost track of time."

No incidents like that have occurred since the new system has been in place, he said.

The kennels at ADDU also have special amenities for Coco and Ross that includes fans and an automatic water dispenser.

Camp, who worked with one of ADDU's first drug dogs, Jack, said his partners continue to amaze.

"They are well worth the investment," he said.

The ADDU officer said one of the things he is most amazed by Coco is her eagerness.

"A couple of times when we did searches she stuck her nose in between the mattress and box spring of bed trying to get to the drugs," he said.

Adams said she was also amazed at the dog's keen sense of smell.

"They are extremely intelligent," she said. "I'm amazed at how they can find things that you would never think they (drug dealers) would hid them (drugs)."

Adams said Ross has located many secret compartments in vehicles and houses that were used for storing drugs.

She said one of the biggest busts ADDU has made was thanks to Ross's keen sense of smell.

"We found 10 kilos of cocaine in a hidden compartment in a vehicle," said Adams.

Berry said that both dogs have paid back almost triple their cost in the amount of drug seizures they have located.

"I wish we could have four," he said. "Coco and Ross cost $6,800 and they have earned way more than that."

Adams said that being the partner to a dog is not easy.

"It's 24/7," she said. "You have to take care of them like a child. They look to you for their needs. You have to be careful during searches and training. Your emotions run down the leash and a dog can feel it. You have to be careful about the little things."

Just like humans, dogs also have Monday morning blues, Adams said.

"They have their bad days too," she said. "You just can't work them that day."

Berry said Ross and Coco have helped ADDU seize significant amounts of drugs, cash and other assets.

"They are some of my best employees," he said.

The reward the dogs get for their work, a toy handlers call a kong.

A kong is an almost indestructible balls or shaped chew toy.

"That's all they want," said Camp. "They are looking for that toy and that play."

Adams said Ross likes to switch up his rewards often.

"Sometimes he gets bored and I have to change up his toy," she said.

Both officers said their work for ADDU would be different without their constant companions.

"Coco is my family," said Camp. "She's my pet, my friend and my partner."