Although Kyha is four legged and covered with fur, the Washington State Patrol K9 is no less an officer then her partner Ben Bryan.
“The K9 and the handler develop a bond that would be similar to a regular partner,” Bryan said. “You can almost tell what the K9 is thinking at times or how they are feeling. Learning to become a handler not only requires a lot of physical and mental work, but it also makes you think like the K9 and learn to read a lot of nonverbal cues.”
Kyha is a 1-year-old German shepard purchased from a Thurston County vendor service specifically chosen for her drive to work, Bryan said.
Kyha graduated from state patrol training school a little over a month ago and was among six dogs who were honored during a ceremony at the Helen Sommers Building in Olympia.
Bryan, who also took specialized training, and Kyha were assigned to District 8, which includes Jefferson County. The two have been a team for about four months, he said.
“District 8 now has two narcotics-detection K9 teams: Trooper Ben Bryan based out of Hoquiam and K9 Kyha as well as Trooper Rod Green and K9 Max based out of Bremerton,” said Chelsea Hodgson, WSP District 8 public information officer. “They will be seen working throughout District 8, and even throughout the state, based on need.”
Dogs have highly specialized olfactory nerves, allowing them to sniff out illegal drugs that otherwise may be unnoticeable to humans, Chelsea said.
“A dog’s nose is thousands of times better than a human nose,” she said. “With narcotics K9s, they are used to detect hidden contraband, which can assist law enforcement when applying for search warrants when they locate the odor of drugs on a vehicle or even in a home.”
The dogs are not trained to search out marijuana, which is legal in the state. Instead, they attempt to locate harder illicit drugs, Hodgson said.
“Our narcotics K9s are only trained to alert to heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine,” she said. “They are not trained to track fugitives, guns or explosives. We do have several explosives K9s that are trained to locate guns and bombs.”
Explosive-detection K9s are most commonly seen working on state ferries as part of the Vessel and Terminal Security Division, Hodgson said.
A growing bond
Bryan said the bond he’s established with Kyha will grow as the two work together.
“The bond between the K9 and handler is one that always continues to grow throughout a career,” he said. “They spend day and night together. As long as Kyha stays healthy, she should have a long career, between eight and 10 years. Over this time, our bond only increases, and we will only learn to work better together with each other.”
That bond extends onto the homefront, with a typical day starting with a hearty breakfast, Hodgson said.
“The K9 is not only a work partner but a member of the family,” she said. “After being fed and ready to go, the K9 and their handler jump in the car and spend 10 hours on shift together. The handler performs his or her normal traffic duties and law enforcement. If the trooper feels narcotics are concealed within a vehicle, they may deploy the K9 on a drug search.”
The team also could be called by other troopers or outside agencies for assistance with narcotics-related searches, Hodgson said.
“After work, the team heads home for dinner and spending time with the family,” she said.
Kyha is easygoing and friendly, Bryan said.
“She has a great personality and loves other people and dogs,” he said. “She was partially chosen for her temperament.”
Before hitting the streets, Bryan and Kyha underwent nine weeks of training to become a certified team, Bryan said.
“I was trained at the WSP K9 Training Center in Shelton,” he said. “The nine-week course trained me in all aspects of being a K9 handler.”
For Khya, training included being introduced to the odors of three separate narcotics and being awarded for finding hidden drugs in different scenarios, Bryan said.
“The K9 handlers and the dogs all worked with each other so the trainers can determine which combination would make the best team,” he said.
By the end of the training, Kyha was paired with Bryan.
“Kyha is my first ever K9 partner,” Bryan said. “I have worked around a lot of K9 handlers both with the Washington State Patrol as well as during my time with the U.S. Air Force.”
Already the duo has been active in fighting crime, Bryan said.
“In our short time as a certified team, we have assisted local task forces, federal task forces and local agencies in locating narcotics and being able to build strong cases against those involved in the growing narcotics epidemic,” he said.
The state patrol K9 program began in 1999, Hodgson said. WSP currently has 15 narcotic K9 teams and about 30 explosive-detection K9 teams statewide.
In addition to German shepherds, the state patrol utilizes many different breeds of working dogs, including labrador retrievers, cocker spaniels and pit bulls, Bryan said.