Local DEA shows off importance of drug-tracking K-9s

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Forget any perception you may have that law enforcement dogs are aggressive and ready to pounce at any second.

Nala, the newest member of the Drug Enforcement Agency’s local multi-department task force, puts that perception to rest.

“She’s very friendly. She’s very, very social. Don’t get me wrong, she’s got a switch given the right situation,” said her handler, a Kent County Sheriff’s deputy assigned to the task force.

Nala, a member of the local Drug Enforcement Agency. (Jan. 22, 2020)

We’re not identifying the deputy because of her undercover role with the task force.

What Nala does best is find illegal drugs with a sense of smell that no man or machine can match.

Think of walking in the house at dinner time: You may smell soup.

Nala smells the onion, the garlic, the celery and the carrots that go into the soup.

“A few things happen when once she gets an odor of narcotics. Her behavior will change, and her breathing will change. She’ll start to breath really hard and really fast at the source,” her handler said.

From there, it’s a stare down, just waiting for her reward.

“It’s all a game. She knows as soon as she finds and gets as close to the source and sits and stares at it, her toy is at some point and time going to pop out of that spot,” her handler said.

Nala, a member of the local Drug Enforcement Agency. (Jan. 22, 2020)

The polish born Belgian Malinois is relatively new to the task force.

“Being able to have a K-9 actually working with us on a daily basis in our cases allows us to open a lot of doors,” said Steve Verdow, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the DEA’s Grand Rapids Division.

Changing attitudes and laws on marijuana have changed the task for Nala and other drug detection dogs.

“She’s not on weed. Basically, anything but that. Heroin, Cocaine, Crack, Meth, Ecstasy, MDMA,” her handler said. “One of the big things we face is the Fentanyl. It’s equally deadly to her as it is to humans. So, we have to be careful of the environments we send her into … I carry Narcan in my car for me and for her.”

Her handler says Nala’s one of the best partners she’s ever had.

“Their drive, their want to work is out of this world,” she said.

The taxpayers get their money’s worth.

News 8 reporter Joe LaFurgey and Nala, a member of the local Drug Enforcement Agency. (Jan. 22, 2020)

Nala expects to be one the job at least seven to 10 years.