KALISPELL – A retired US Forest Service officer is training drug-sniffing dogs in the Flathead Valley with the hopes of accurate drug seizures for law enforcement.
Dianna McKinley worked for the Flathead National Forest for 24 years, including a half dozen as a K9 handler.
With a love for dogs, McKinley started her own business, K9 Alert, which trains drug-sniffing dogs and their handlers.
She says that and K9 can be trained if it has the “hunt drive.”
McKinley teaches the dog how to find drugs using a reward system. The dog sniffs out the drug, the dog is rewarded with a ball and praise.
She told MTN News that drug-sniffing dogs are important now more than ever in search and seizures in Montana.
“Those dogs can smell things we can’t, they’re 100,000 times more sensitive to things then we are. Just a sponge — a dog can find that [if it has] a little bit of odor on it,” McKinley said.
“It’s amazing how their nose is. And they can go places and they can tell us things, they cut search times down,” she added.
During training or a drug search, the dogs aren’t prompted by the handler; no hand signals are given to try and point the dog in the right direction of where drugs may be held.
Dogs alert their handlers on their own if drugs are present, making searches more accurate.
McKinley says the bond between handler and dog is crucial. Most dogs live, train and work with their handler — like Shane Lindstrom his dog Cooper.
“He goes everywhere with me. He’s my buddy, he’s a family dog also, but he knows when we come to train, it’s like flipping a light switch and he’s a drug dog, he wants to work,” Lidstrom told MTN News.
Training for a few months, Shane and Cooper hope to be a working K9 team in the future.
The state reports that overdoses account for 250 deaths and over 2,000 ER admissions each year.
Reporting by Maren Siu for MTN News