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At UMass K9 training, dogs build, prove police skills

  • Diezel, a Dutch Shepherd police dog owned by UMass Canine Officer Liana Varosky, rests Thursday after tracking marijuana in vehicles during a K9 training event held at UMass.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Diezel, a Dutch Shepherd police dog owned by UMass Canine Officer Liana Varosky, rests Thursday after tracking marijuana in vehicles during a K9 training event held at UMass.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Diezel, a Dutch Shepherd police dog owned by UMass Canine Officer Liana Varosky, searches Thursday for marijuana in vehicles during a K9 training event held at UMass. The task is part of the yearly certification required for all police dogs.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Diezel, a Dutch Shepherd police dog owned by UMass Canine Officer Liana Varosky, searches Thursday for marijuana in vehicles during a K9 training event held at UMass. The task is part of the yearly certification required for all police dogs.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Pittsfield Canine Officer Steve Haecker and his German Shepherd police dog Rango search Thursday for large amounts of marijuana hidden in a vehicle during a K9 training event at UMass. The task is part of the yearly certification required for all police dogs.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Pittsfield Canine Officer Steve Haecker and his German Shepherd police dog Rango search Thursday for large amounts of marijuana hidden in a vehicle during a K9 training event at UMass. The task is part of the yearly certification required for all police dogs.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Pittsfield Canine Officer Steve Haecker and his German Shepherd police dog Rango search Thursday for large amounts of marijuana hidden in a vehicle during a K9 training event at UMass. The task is part of the yearly certification required for all police dogs.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Pittsfield Canine Officer Steve Haecker and his German Shepherd police dog Rango search Thursday for large amounts of marijuana hidden in a vehicle during a K9 training event at UMass. The task is part of the yearly certification required for all police dogs.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Rango, a German Shepherd police belonging to Pittsfield Canine Officer Steve Haecker, finds a large amount of marijuana hidden in a vehicle Thursday during a K9 training event at UMass. The task is part of the yearly certification required for all police dogs.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Rango, a German Shepherd police belonging to Pittsfield Canine Officer Steve Haecker, finds a large amount of marijuana hidden in a vehicle Thursday during a K9 training event at UMass. The task is part of the yearly certification required for all police dogs.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Ossipee Police Sgt. and Canine Handler Tony Castaldo engages in an aggression control exercise with Bosco, a German Shepherd police dog, Thursday during a K9 training and certification event at UMass. The exercise uses a bite sleeve and trains the dogs to let go of a human if told to. "When they want something more than anything in the world, it is important that they will still listen to you," said Castaldo.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Ossipee Police Sgt. and Canine Handler Tony Castaldo engages in an aggression control exercise with Bosco, a German Shepherd police dog, Thursday during a K9 training and certification event at UMass. The exercise uses a bite sleeve and trains the dogs to let go of a human if told to. "When they want something more than anything in the world, it is important that they will still listen to you," said Castaldo.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • UMass Sgt. and Canine Handler Damian DeWolf engages in an obedience and aggression control exercise with his German Shepherd police dog, Bosco, Thursday during a K9 training and certification event at UMass. "He absolutely loves this toy so for him to spit it out when told to - that shows he's obedient" said DeWolf.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    UMass Sgt. and Canine Handler Damian DeWolf engages in an obedience and aggression control exercise with his German Shepherd police dog, Bosco, Thursday during a K9 training and certification event at UMass. "He absolutely loves this toy so for him to spit it out when told to - that shows he's obedient" said DeWolf.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Diezel, a Dutch Shepherd police dog owned by UMass Canine Officer Liana Varosky, rests Thursday after tracking marijuana in vehicles during a K9 training event held at UMass.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Diezel, a Dutch Shepherd police dog owned by UMass Canine Officer Liana Varosky, searches Thursday for marijuana in vehicles during a K9 training event held at UMass. The task is part of the yearly certification required for all police dogs.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Pittsfield Canine Officer Steve Haecker and his German Shepherd police dog Rango search Thursday for large amounts of marijuana hidden in a vehicle during a K9 training event at UMass. The task is part of the yearly certification required for all police dogs.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Pittsfield Canine Officer Steve Haecker and his German Shepherd police dog Rango search Thursday for large amounts of marijuana hidden in a vehicle during a K9 training event at UMass. The task is part of the yearly certification required for all police dogs.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Rango, a German Shepherd police belonging to Pittsfield Canine Officer Steve Haecker, finds a large amount of marijuana hidden in a vehicle Thursday during a K9 training event at UMass. The task is part of the yearly certification required for all police dogs.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Ossipee Police Sgt. and Canine Handler Tony Castaldo engages in an aggression control exercise with Bosco, a German Shepherd police dog, Thursday during a K9 training and certification event at UMass. The exercise uses a bite sleeve and trains the dogs to let go of a human if told to. "When they want something more than anything in the world, it is important that they will still listen to you," said Castaldo.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • UMass Sgt. and Canine Handler Damian DeWolf engages in an obedience and aggression control exercise with his German Shepherd police dog, Bosco, Thursday during a K9 training and certification event at UMass. "He absolutely loves this toy so for him to spit it out when told to - that shows he's obedient" said DeWolf.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

If a child gets lost in the woods or runs away from home, Diezel helps locate the missing youth.

Should a suspect break into a home, Diezel find the trail and can share credit for an arrest.

Handled by Officer Liana Varosky, Diezel, a 7-year-old Dutch shepherd from Belgium, has become an important part of the University of Massachusetts police force,

Along with Bosco, a 6-year-old German shepherd, they make up the K9 units UMass police have used for a decade.

“They’re a great community engagement detail, a deterrent to crime and narcotics, and for assisting in sports-related disturbances,” said Sgt. Damian DeWolf, who handles Bosco.

Along with 24 other K9 units, they participated this week in a certification training session involving UMass police and the Massachusetts Police Work Dog Association. The dogs demonstrated they are proficient at various police work and have a chance to hone their skills.

About 45 dog teams came to take part in the training on the UMass campus and in residence halls. All 26 dogs that came completed their certifications, Varosky said.

The training involved tasks such as detecting explosives and narcotics, suspect apprehension, tracking and trailing, article recovery and area and building searches. These are all led by six trainers from the association.

“They’re independent and they certify us every year,” DeWolf said.

DeWolf said certification is important because it reduces liability to the department. Dogs need to show they can successfully be called off someone they are subduing and that they are accurate sources for information that will be presented in court.

In a parking lot behind the Sylvan Residential Area, several of the teams worked on skill-building in narcotics detection. To complete certification, the handlers must ensure their dogs are only scratching, clawing and sniffing at vehicles which have narcotics in them.

The dogs can train in detection of cocaine, heroin, marijuana, methamphetamines and the drug Ecstasy, DeWolf said.

None of the dogs mistook an empty vehicle for one in which drugs were stashed.

“They’re really accurate,” DeWolf said. “If they’re alerted to a narcotic that’s not there, you’re putting a person through a situation they don’t deserve.

They also were tested on 75 lockers, only four of which had drug odors. Drugs were also hidden in dormitories. “We make it as realistic as possible,” Varosky said.

Other than UMass, Belchertown is the lone Hampshire County town with a K9 unit. Many local departments cite the cost, with many dogs coming from overseas, costing $5,000 to $10,000 to purchase and then needing weeks of training before they can hit the streets. At UMass, there is also 16 hours per month of ongoing training, Varosky said.

Belchertown officer Adam Brougham, a patrolman with Falco, said the dog has been used for anything from locating endangered and missing people to handler protection.

But Brougham said the biggest benefit may be public relations.

“It’s a great tool to break down the traditional barriers,” Brougham said. “Everyone loves to talk to the dog guy or girl, any handler will tell you that.”

Another participant is Franklin County Sheriff’s office. Lt. Scott Waldron said his dog, Drago, is usually at the jail.

“Having him at the jail is a huge benefit for control of the inmates and finding narcotics,” Waldron said.

But he also gets out into the community to meet children and is periodically called by county towns that need assistance.

The UMass K9 units, Varosky said, provide mutual aid, and have been called to high schools for drug checks. DeWolf said the dogs can also be a “force multiplier” at scenes of riots.

“They can mess with us, they won’t mess with a dog,” DeWolf said.

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