One veteran member of the Spokane Police Department is crazy for cocaine. Marijuana, methamphetamine and heroin make her go a little wild, too.
Her name is Nina and she’s drawn to drugs like nobody’s business.
“It’s definitely her thing,” said partner Ernie Wuthrich. “It’s her job and she loves to work.”
For the past eight years, Nina the dog has sniffed out drugs from Spokane homes, cars, toilets and buses. Lately, the yellow Labrador has been used by postal inspectors to find drugs arriving in Spokane through the mail.
Rarely is her moist, brown nose wrong.
“I trust her completely,” said Wuthrich, who has worked with Nina for a year. “When she says there’s drugs in there, there’s drugs in there.”
A lot of the dope being mailed to Spokane is sealed in plastic, wrapped in duct tape or buried in coffee beans before it’s tucked inside an envelope. Sometimes the entire package is doused in perfume, Wuthrich said.
None of the decoys distracts Nina. Within seconds she can zero in on the drugs and will claw or bite the package until her partner calls her away.
Nina has also found pot pipes under car seats, marijuana in a ceiling vent, methamphetamine in a toilet tank and thousands of dollars in cash that smelled like dope.
She has such a reliable record of finding drugs that detectives never hesitate to request a search warrant if Nina signals she smells dope. Judges who know the dog’s history almost always sign the warrants.
Her reward? A tennis ball.
“She loves that ball,” Wuthrich said, tugging fiercely to get it out of Nina’s mouth. “She thinks it’s a big game of hide-and-seek - the ball’s hidden and she’s got to find it. Once she finds the drugs, she gets the ball.”
Nina, 9, has a splash of white on her face and a head that isn’t shaped like most Labs. But Sgt. Ron Erickson, who runs the K-9 unit, insists she’s not a mix.
“She’s ugly,” Erickson said of the department’s only narcotics dog. “But she’s good, so I guess we can’t complain.”
Unlike the five other dogs in the unit, Nina isn’t trained to hunt hiding criminals or stop a fleeing felon. She isn’t protective of her handler, either, much to the chagrin of Wuthrich.
When he tried to arrest an uncooperative suspect last week and ended up in a wrestling match on the ground, Wuthrich said he heard a thump, thump, thump at his patrol car.
It was Nina’s tail. Wagging.
“She must have thought that was real funny, I guess,” Wuthrich said. “What a sweetheart.”