by Jonathan Copsey / Appen Newspapers
June 06, 2010 MILTON - DaSilva may seem like your typical hyperactive large dog, but he's anything but cuddly - he's been trained for two things: catching criminals and sniffing out drugs. And he does both very well. He's Milton's police dog.
The Milton Citizens Police Academy was introduced to DaSilva and his handler, Officer Brien Kiel, at the recent class, where they learned everything about how the Belgian Malinois takes a bite out of crime.
DaSilva is trained to use his nose to sniff out narcotics - everything from marijuana to cocaine to methamphetamine. He follows the scent and, when he finds it, will paw at the location and look back to his master. The dog's main use in Milton is searching vehicles on traffic stops. He is trotted around the outside of a stopped vehicle to sniff the air around it. If and when he finds a smell he recognizes, he alerts Kiel. If there is marijuana in the driver's side door, the dog will paw at the door. He's that precise.
But such training does not come easily. The two of them train more than eight hours a week just to keep fresh and alert, making sure that every command is understood and followed.
"It took some time to get used to him," said Kiel, who recounted how afraid he was of DaSilva when they first met. This was 70 plus pounds of high-strung biting machine that Kiel was being partnered with. Even the dog instructor, whose job it is to train large killing machines to hunt for drugs, was a little fearful of DaSilva.
Donated money bought the $10,000 DaSilva for Milton and Kiel got the role of handler by virtue of being the only volunteer.
"But we were destined to be together," said Kiel.
The two have formed such a strong bond over the years that neither would take another partner.
The Police Academy class was treated to DaSilva hunting through the classroom for hidden narcotics, which he immediately found and actively pawed at. According to Kiel, the dog has been trained to hunt not for objects but for smells, which he associates with getting a reward for finding. DaSilva doesn't see anything but the scent of the drug, which makes him perfectly suited to hunt for the tiniest traces of illicit materials.
And he's very good at that.
"Can you beat my dog?" asked Kiel. "Sure. But you're going to have to go through hell to do it."
Case in point: drug smugglers have tried everything to deter drug-sniffing dogs. A case in Marietta turned up a large shipping crate. It was screwed shut with the screws filled in. Inside were cellophane-wrapped bundles filled with layers of everything from mustard to coffee, with drugs located in the middle. The drug dog still found it. There is no way to hide the smell of anything once a dog has been trained to find it. Only time and distance will allow the scent to dissipate.
But that's no solace to the drug runner with a bundle of cocaine in his glove box, or the pot dealer with a bag of marijuana hidden in the trunk.
Despite the nature DaSilva's work, he's friendly and loves to crew things, which makes him the ideal mascot for the Milton Police Department. He can go into schools and most kids will enjoy seeing him and playing with him, while Kiel teaches them about safety and what the police (and their dogs) do.
Does having a dog on the force work?
"You're dang right it does," Kiel said.
As a face for the children as well as a useful and productive member of the police force, DaSilva has earned his keep.