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His nose knows

CENTRAL POINT — While the city's newest police recruit is more adept than his fellow officers at searching for cocaine, heroin and meth, his salary — a bag of high-quality dog kibble — is considerably lower.

Happy with his new assignment, K-9 officer Mattis — named for the current defense secretary and retired Marine Corps Gen. Jim "Mad Dog" Mattis — is the first four-legged addition to the force.

An English springer Spaniel with a touch of German shorthair pointer, Mattis is partnering with Officer Brian Munoz, who helped him demonstrate a drug search on a car in the department parking lot one afternoon this week.

While Mattis, who hails from Ireland, received four months of training for drug sniffing, he recently completed another 80-hour course teaching his human counterpart how to read his commands.

The pair will be required to maintain 16 hours of training per month for state certification, but Munoz said they'll get dual certification by staying up on training standards for California, too.

A four-year veteran of the department, Munoz said Mattis is a three-odor dog — cocaine, heroin and meth — and indicates a "find" by putting his nose on a suspect area and not relaxing or retreating until he's acknowledged.

With the idea of a police canine more often bringing to mind a long-legged shepherd or a larger, more-intimidating breed, Mattis is distinct for his soft brown spots, small stature and floppy ears.

"The hounds are pretty much what departments are starting to use for sniffing out drugs," Munoz explained. "They're really big in the UK, and agencies here are starting to go to the Spaniels because they're good hunting dogs. Since they're smaller, they can fit into tight spaces, too.

"Even I pictured, when they were first talking about getting a dog, a big mastiff or shepherd kind of drug dog."

Department officials say the friendly pooch will not only be a good tool for his drug sniffing abilities, but also for community relations and for use in the department's D.A.R.E. program, one of the state's few remaining.

By the time Mattis first day of work rolled around last Wednesday, he had already been welcomed by community members who saw an announcement on the department's Facebook page and participated in a poll to name him.

His name won out over "Marley" by just a few votes.

Munoz admitted the department, with its fair share of Marines, might have pulled rank in naming the pooch in honor of Defense Secretary Mattis.

Whatever military branch the dog is tied to, his skills will be invaluable for the department with ever-increase drug cases for agencies around the Rogue Valley.

Costs for Mattis, Lt. Scott Logue noted, were minimal, with purchase and training funded through asset forfeitures. An existing patrol car was retrofitted as a K-9 unit.

Prior to Mattis' arrival, requests for drug dogs were few and far between due, usually, to logistics.

"If we needed one, we requested one from another department," Logue explained. "But the reality was that we weren't really doing it all that often because it's a hassle when you're working a case, and sometimes it's a matter of convenience for the other agency."

Long term, department officials hope to get a second dog so both weekly shifts can be covered.

"It's early, but we're really optimistic about the utilization of the dog, and we've already thought about the possibility, shift-wise, of having a dog on each shift," Logue sad. "The way we're set up, shift-wise, we have the first half of the week and the second half. Ideally, we would love to have one on each shift so we're covered every day of the week."

With his big brown eyes fixed on his new human counterpart, Mattis had little to say about his ranking in the department or his tribute moniker.

Munoz, however, suspects he's already outranked by the new recruit, pointing to the fresh decal on the side of his patrol car.

Said Munoz, "I've been here four years, and I don't have my name on the car!"

— Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

K-9 police dog Mattis demonstrates his ability to sniff out trace amounts of methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin. He began his job as a drug hound Wednesday with the Central Point Police Department. [Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta]