Nova Scotia

Police dogs on the front lines of fight against fentanyl

Narcotic detection dogs and their handlers are especially at risk because it's their job to find hidden illegal drugs.

‘I have to be that much more careful for myself and the dog,’ says RCMP officer

RCMP Const. Mark Flanagan and his dog Jake are on the lookout for hidden illegal drugs. (Robert Short/CBC)

There's a new deadly threat facing the country's police dogs — the drugs fentanyl and carfentanil.

Both fentanyl and carfentanil are powerful opioid drugs. Fentanyl is used in tiny doses to treat pain, while carfentanil was developed as a large animal sedative. A dose the size of a grain of sand can kill a man and man's best friend. 

Narcotic detection dogs like Jake, as well as his handler, RCMP Const. Mark Flanagan, are especially at risk because it's their job to find hidden illegal drugs.

"If the dog is going to inhale it, there's a good chance the handler will as well, so we're both probably going to be dead," said Flanagan.

Jake is a Labrador retriever and uses his powerful sense of smell to hunt down illegal drugs. (Robert Short/CBC)

That means Flanagan has to be extra careful and make sure Jake doesn't touch packages he's sniffing with any part of his nose.

"It definitely worries me as a handler, but I have to be that much more careful for myself and the dog," Flanagan said. 

Dogs are one of the only ways the RCMP and other police forces can find drugs hidden in buildings and vehicles.

In Jake's nine-year career, he alone has managed to sniff out between $3 million and $4 million worth of drugs. 

Flanagan said without Jake, those drugs would have made it to the street. 

Police dogs are trained to find illegal drugs including cocaine and crack cocaine. These are RCMP drug mock-ups used for demonstrations and do not contain any actual drugs. (Robert Short/CBC)

The man and dog team serve the entire province and are sometimes called into action four to five times a week. 

"We see them as a huge contributor to our investigations and great to have on our team," said Cpl. Dal Hutchinson, a spokesperson for the Nova Scotia RCMP. 

After nine years of service, Jake's career is starting to wind down, just as marijuana is on the cusp of becoming legal. 

Flanagan believes that will probably be a good thing, since Jake is trained to detect pot and might get confused once it's legalized.  

Jake is set to retire to a life of tug-of-war and fetch in the next couple of years. (Robert Short/CBC)

"I think what you're going to find is that the new dogs coming into the program will not be trained for any marijuana, so they won't know the difference. They'll be trained for the regular drugs that they're trained for — basically mushrooms, cocaine, crack cocaine, crystal meth, ecstasy, heroin and fentanyl."

Jake will probably retire in a year or two and will continue living with Flanagan throughout his golden years — he just won't accompany Flanagan to work anymore.