SHERIDAN, Wyo. - The saying, ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ is not true in Wyoming as the highway patrol trains all of its narcotic dogs to detect fentanyl. It's a training program so successful it's being replicated around the world.
“I've talked to people as far away as the United Kingdom, Canada, people along the border, they want to know what we are doing, how we are doing this,” says Wyoming Highway Patrol K9 Supervisor Lt. Joshua Hardee.
Most drug dogs can’t detect fentanyl, and given the potency, which is 100 times stronger than morphine, it’s easy to understand why many agencies aren’t in a hurry to train old dogs new tricks.
“A lot of people want to know, this the community wants to know, how do you do this without hurting the dogs?” says Hardee.
The answer is, very carefully.
"Our K9s are trained and certified on the real fentanyl. We’ve had hundreds of exposures for the dogs on the real fentanyl, and we’ve had zero problems."
The secret to keeping dogs safe during training is in a small training container.
“If you see there’s a filter here that blocks between the rest of what’s in the jar and what’s in the container here. That’s that barrier that I was talking about, that no contaminants or particles can come out. There’s normally a little tube that’s in here that we get from Precision Explosives, and that tube is what’s soaked with the fentanyl odor. The odor comes out of the top here and the dog can smell on this. Nothing can get out except that vapor,” says Lt. Hardee.
During an actual traffic stop, troopers keep Narcan on hand for humans and dogs in case of exposure.
Reno was the first WHP K9 officer to be trained to detect fentanyl in July 2022.
“When this started pretty much in the country, Wyoming Highway Patrol was the only agency with a dog that was nationally certified,” says Hardee.
In February 2023, Wyoming trained nine additional dogs, its entire narcotic unit. That training took just a week, but handlers work with their K9s daily to hone detection skills for five different drugs.
"Whether we take a pill or a couple pills out of someone's vehicle that they had illegally, even that makes a difference. Every little thing that we get makes a difference,” says Hardee.
In March, Jager helped a trooper seize more than 1300 fentanyl pills, nearly 4 pounds of meth and a pistol from a convicted felon near Evanston. The drugs were believed to be headed to communities in Wyoming.
"It will happen where we continue to seize fentanyl,” says Hardee.
In April, Becky helped a trooper seize 2,186 fentanyl pills near Rock Springs, along with 11 pounds of meth, marijuana, Adderall, and two stolen pistols.
“This is a big deal across the whole country, it's out of control,” says Hardee.
“You know, it’s quite humbling to be leading the country and pioneering this effort. I think everybody is proud. We want to share our message, help others, we want this to grow, to make an impact nationwide, not just in Wyoming, not just the region, but the nation and the country,” says Hardee.