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Marysville Police Dept. welcomes K9s


Kirk Boxleitner

Officer Brad Smith with Steele.

A new patrol partner can be a challenge for any police officer, but when Derek Oates and Brad Smith find themselves working with a new recruit, it's like taking on a new family member.

"They're like kids at first," said Smith, who first worked with a K9 dog in Montana in 2003, before receiving his second K9 partner less than a year after he came to the Marysville Police Department in 2009.

Smith and Oates, who first partnered with a K9 in Marysville in 2008, both received new dogs this year, and are still training them as dual-purpose patrol and drug detection dogs.

Oates is still working with a German Shepherd, after he traded 10-year-old Ranger for 15-month-old Copper, while Smith has gone from working with a black lab named Katy, also 10, to a Belgian Malinois named Steele, barely more than a year old.

"Katy was still trained to detect marijuana," Smith said, proving true the cliché about teaching old dogs new tricks.

Since starting in 2001, the MPD's K9 program has adopted new approaches, both as a result of changes in state laws and thanks to the initiative of the officers and supportive community members alike.

While both K9s will still have to complete a minimum of 200 hours of narcotics training, and somewhere between 200-400 hours of patrol training, the Marysville-based Fineline Fixtures & Case business furnished the department with a more expansive version of the drug-sniffing boxes that are standard among most law enforcement agencies.

"A lot of agencies have drug boxes with five or six holes for the dogs to sniff," Smith said, while standing in front of two entire walls full of holes, each as tall as himself. "With our training, they're not limited as much. They know they have to go both low and high to detect odors."

With an average cost of $7,200 each just to purchase the dogs, such community support is invaluable.

Smith and Oates thanked not only Fineline, but also veterinarian Tim O'Rourke for continuing to provide the dogs with free care, as he's done from the start of Marysville's K9 program, even though he's since moved to Mount Vernon.

By providing such advanced training measures to the dogs early on, their handlers are able to take advantage of their natural enthusiasm, although that exuberance sometimes needs to be curbed.

"It's a little challenging, because this new guy is a ball of energy and doesn't know anything yet," Oates said of Copper. "He just wants to work."

Smith likewise described Steele as a bit rambunctious in this phase of his training.

"He'll lean into you when you pet him, but he's got no manners right now," Smith said. "He's not mean at all, but if I'm not careful, he'll knock my kids right over."

Indeed, even the most confrontational part of the dogs' job is simply play to them.

"Everything they do is a game, even when they have to bite a suspect," Smith said. "They're trained to think that, as soon as they find a source of odor for heroin, methamphetamine or cocaine, a toy will come flying out of it."

At the same time, the K9 officers are serious about training their dogs to bite only when necessary.

"Biting is one of the only tools the dog has to protect himself, but we've managed to achieve the lowest bite ratio in the county," Oates said. "We want for the dog to be safe, but also for the bad guy to give up without the dog having to make contact."

The handlers have been building up their dogs' discipline by sending them after targets, then calling them back when they're as close as possible to making contact.

Kirk Boxleitner

Officer Derek Oates with Copper.

"They'll be diving with their mouths open when we yell at them to stop," Oates said. "We have to see how far we can push them, and they have to learn they can trust us."

Smith deemed the K9s' detection and tracking work invaluable to the police, since human officers' senses could never catch as many suspects or as much contraband, but the dogs work for cheap, treating a well-worn PVC pipe as "the best treat ever."

"When I worked with my dog in Montana, it was there more just to protect the handler," Smith said. "Marysville uses its dogs for tracking way more. In fact, I think we use our dogs in general more than anywhere else I've been."

You can follow the progress of the Marysville Police K9 program online at


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