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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Pooch rescued from Oregon shelter now Washington K-9 dog

In this April 10, 2018, photo, Deputy Joe Mehline and his new K9 partner Sawyer pose for a photo at the Benton County Sheriff's Office in Kennewick, Wash. (Bob Brawdy / Associated Press)
In this April 10, 2018, photo, Deputy Joe Mehline and his new K9 partner Sawyer pose for a photo at the Benton County Sheriff's Office in Kennewick, Wash. (Bob Brawdy / Associated Press)
By Annie Fowler Tri-City Herald

KENNEWICK, Wash. – Criminals in the Tri-Cities will have a harder time trying to hide their drugs with Sawyer on duty.

Sawyer is the Benton County Sheriff’s Office’s new drug dog, and he’s already proven to be effective.

“We have been deployed twice and found what we were looking for,” said Deputy Joe Mehline, who is Sawyer’s handler.

The sheriff’s office has been without a K9 unit since their last dog, Jago, retired about six years ago.

Cmdr. Steve Caughey said Sheriff Jerry Hatcher wanted to get a police dog back in place.

“(Sawyer) will do searches in the jail, and they are assigned to the sheriff’s office Gang Enforcement Team,” Caughey said. “It’s always a benefit to have a drug dog.”

The Kennewick Police Department (Axel and Bear), BCSO and the Pasco Police Department (Lemon and Hapo) are the only agencies with police dogs in the Tri-Cities.

A golden lab/Shar-Pei mix, Sawyer is an 18-month-old rescue dog from a shelter in Oregon.

He’s trained to find cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine in amounts as small as three-hundreths of an ounce.

Mehline met Sawyer at the state Department of Corrections’ Narcotic Detection Dog Training in Shelton a couple of months ago.

“I didn’t know him until I got there,” Mehline said. “They had about a dozen dogs there at the start, and we got to interact with them and figure out which dog we liked and could work with.”

Mehline and Sawyer were new to the K9 scene when they arrived at training, but they quickly adapted to their new jobs.

By the end of the six-week course, they graduated at the top of their class with a 93.9 percent find ratio.

They also got a perfect score on “Hell Night,” a several-hourslong exercise held after training that puts the dog and handler work to find narcotics in rooms, cars, open spaces and packages.

“I heard that (score) was unprecedented,” Caughey said.

Mehline, who has been with the sheriff’s office since June, spent 10 years as a police officer in Federal Way.

He said being part of a K9 unit was not as simple as raising your hand.

“It was a testing process,” Mehline said. “There was an oral interview, the board made their decision and I got the opportunity to work with a dog. It has been a challenge, but it’s a fun and rewarding experience.”

While Mehline and Sawyer passed their certification, there still is much work to do.

The pair has been working with Kennewick’s two K9 units – Officer Isaac Merkl with drug dog Bear, and Officer Brad Kohn with apprehension dog Axel.

“KPD has been catching me up going from a sterile environment to real life,” Mehline said. “They are very experienced. They know what it’s like to have a green handler and dog.”

Sawyer lives with Mehline and his family, which has been a good fit. He’s great with Mehline’s kids and is “super playful”, Mehline said.

“It’s been a 180-degree turn for him,” Mehline said. “He went from being in the shelter to being employed.”

But he also knows when it’s time to go to work.

“When he sees me in uniform, he leaves the kennel and heads to the car,” Mehline said.

Caughey said he knows Sawyer would like to meet the rest of the staff in the office, but they are holding off until he has been through more training.

“We want him to be sociable, but he needs to maintain his discipline,” he said.

Caughey also said there are plans to add a patrol dog in the near future.

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