In their heyday, Narc and Cody, two drug-sniffing pooches employed by the Medford, Ore., Police Department, were valued weapons in the war against drugs.
Narc, a Belgian Malinois, is trained to sit when he smells a drug, while Cody, a Lab mix, freezes in place when he picks up on an illegal substance.
Sgt. D.J. Graham, who oversees the department’s drug-sniffing dog program, called both 5-year-old canines “model employees.”
“They’re both very friendly and both hard-working and have high energy,” he told The Washington Post. “They’re both very focused when it comes to their work and they work for cheap: food and play.”
When marijuana becomes legal on July 1, it seems, they’ll find themselves in the same position as a lot of skilled, middle-aged employees in a rapidly evolving economy: unemployed.
The reason, police said, is that drug-sniffing dogs are often used to alert authorities about the presence of drugs, providing them with the probable cause necessary to initiate a search. If, as the Seattle Times explains, a suspect is carrying a newly legal drug like marijuana and an illegal drug like heroin, a dog that provides probable cause after smelling the legal substance could invalidate any arrest for the illegal substance.
Medford police are hardly alone. Law enforcement agencies statewide will be forced to fire their suddenly irrelevant drug-sniffing dogs after voters approved Ballot Measure 91 — legalizing recreational marijuana legal for anyone 21 and older — in November, according to the Times.
“Statewide,” the newspaper reported, “there are 150 dogs working for various law enforcement agencies, according to the Oregon Police Canine Association. About 60 of the dogs are assigned to drug enforcement.”
“It’s kind of sad,” Deputy Chief Brett Johnson told the Times. “Nobody wants to see a dog lose its job.”
Why not teach an old dog new tricks? As it turns out, the old adage holds true. Retraining a dog is not as simple as teaching a baby boomer how to tweet, although it’s not entirely different either.
“It’s much harder to retrain a dog than it is to train them for the first time,” Graham told The Post, noting that each animal costs $12,000. “Their brains develop synapses the same way human brains do. In times of stress or confusion, it becomes harder to ignore those synapses.”
Medford police are already moving on. They’ve requested an additional $24,000 in the upcoming city budget for new pooches that will be trained to smell heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine, but not marijuana, according to the Times.
Graham said police are still deciding what to do with Cody and Narc, meanwhile, both of whom have half a decade of work left in them. Police said there’s a chance one of the dogs will continue to work counterfeit cases, in which money can bear the scent of drugs or in cases where drugs have been carried across state lines.
Cody’s handler also told the Times that he’d be happy to adopt his co-worker. Police Chief Tim George promised the dogs will end up in good homes and not be euthanized.
“We don’t say they’re being fired,” Graham told The Post. “We prefer to call it early retirement.”