CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (WIVB) — Wazi is a 7-year-old German Shepherd trained to identify and find narcotics. But because of the rise in the region’s opiate epidemic, and the deadly nature of the drugs causing it, Wazi’s partner in the Cheektowaga Police Department works with an added sense of awareness, and additional tools always within reach.
On a bright and breezy Wednesday morning, Wazi attacked a “criminal” on a smoke-filled bus. If this was a real scene, he’d next be asked to search for narcotics — in a region where the drug of choice for addicts is, lately, heroin laced with Fentanyl, the substance believed to be responsible for 11 deaths since Saturday, and more than 160 so far this year.
That means first responders, and K-9 handlers like Wazi’s partner John Doskocz, are required to be ready with the opiate-reversal drug Narcan — for people, and their dogs.
“Today, in our day and age, we want to make sure that our dogs are safe,” Doskocz said, in between running training drills for dozens of K-9 teams from across Western New York. “Most recently we were administered kits for Narcan for our dogs. It’s the same kit that’s used for humans.”
K-9 officers all across WNY attended a training session last month in Amherst that gave them tips on keeping dogs safe around deadly drugs.
Dr. Joshua Lynch, emergency room doctor for Kaleida and ECMC and a member of Erie County’s physician task force, and Veterinarian Helen Sweeney of the Elma Animal Hospital administered that training.
“If you’ve ever seen a K-9 working, on TV or in person, you notice that they’re really excited, they’re breathing heavily,” Lynch said. “And terrible things can happen if they inhale a pile of Carfentanyl or Fentanyl-heroin combination. That would affect them similar to how it would affect a human.”
And, fortunately, so does Narcan.
“I have one in my first aid kit for my dog and one in my door,” said Transit Police Officer Andre Taibbi, whose dog Holly sniffs out explosives. “I’ve been a police officer for 18 years, and you’ve never seen the epidemic going on like it is now, and especially now, it was never something you really had to think about with the dog … It’s definitely something we take precautions for.”
“This type of training, now a necessity for teams like Wazi and John, is expected to be offered again in the future, as the epidemic continues in Western New York and the grip of Fentanyl fails to subside.