New drug-sniffing dog named Baby Blue to help Summit County Sheriff’s Office counter narcotics trafficking

The new canine program at the Sheriff's Office received $15,000 in seed funds from an anonymous community member.

Baby Blue with her handler K9 Technician Sarah Froster.
Courtesy Summit County Sheriff’s Office/Courtesy photo

The Summit County Sheriff’s Office has deployed a new drug-sniffing dog in an effort to combat illicit drugs from circulating in the community.

Since joining the Sheriff’s Office in October, Baby “Babe” Blue, a 2-year-old German Shorthair Pointer, has completed her state and national certifications, assisted with a search mission, and sniffed for drugs during several traffic stops, according to Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons.

“I’m a huge believer in harm reduction, but I’m also a huge believer that we can’t just let narcotics infiltrate our community unchecked,” FitzSimons said. “So, this is that other side of it, of trying to stop the influx of narcotics.”

Blue is trained to detect the odors of heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine. While she is not trained to detect fentanyl — a synthetic opioid linked to an increase in overdose deaths in recent years —  FitzSimons noted that many illegal street drugs these days are tainted with fentanyl and drug dealers typically carry multiple drugs, not just fentanyl.

So, FitzSimons said he expects the Narcotics Detection and Interdiction Team composed of Blue and her handler, K9 Technician Sarah Frost, to help the Sheriff’s Office prevent fentanyl, as well as other drugs, from being distributed in the community.

Most days, Blue and Frost spend at least two hours training with hides that use the odors of real drugs provided by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, FitzSimons said. Eventually, the pair will fold into the traffic team, where they will be attempting to find narcotics moving through Summit County.

“They’re engaged together in a lot of training, and it’s going to take a minute for the two to marry and to get out there and train and be successful,” FitzSimons said. 

Part of Frost’s job is to monitor intelligence from state and federal law enforcement agencies related to the movement of narcotics across the country, FitzSimons said. But from there, “A lot of it is playing the lottery, just stopping the right car,” he said.

The Sheriff’s Office has to have probable cause to pull a vehicle over, but once a deputy has conducted a traffic stop, the dog can be deployed, Frost said, noting that the sniff from the Blue only takes a handful of minutes.

“It can literally be anything that you get stopped for,” Frost said. “But we’re not running the dog on every car we stop. So there’s some reason why. Maybe we have intel from somebody. Maybe during the traffic stop we just got a weird story, some weird vibes from that person, and so we might run the dog around the car.”

If Blue detects drugs as she is sniffing around the vehicle, her behavior will change, according to Frost. She is trained to sit upon detecting drugs, but if the drugs are up high, she may stand and lock up, Frost said, or if they’re down low she may lay down.

“Honestly, you can just tell,” Frost said. “… All of a sudden she’ll head snap, come back, and then she’ll work it to source. And from there you can really hear her intense breathing and her tail goes nuts too. It’s a helpful cue.”

So far, Blue has had successful hits on two vehicles, where law enforcement officers discovered user amounts of meth and, on one of the occasions, a couple pills of fentanyl, FitzSimons said. 

Blue is also trained for searches and can track a person or their belongings with just a whiff of a “scent article” containing the person’s aroma, FitzSimons said. To date, she has assisted with tracking one individual, who walked into a bar just before she would have found him, the sheriff said.

According to FitzSimons, the Sheriff’s Office first established a K9 program in 2007. That program eventually grew to include two K9 deputies and two dual-purpose canines trained in bite apprehension, building and area searches, tracking and narcotics detection.

But, in 2019, the Sheriff’s Office discontinued the K9 program after the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that a sniff from a drug-detecting dog that is trained to alert to marijuana constitutes a search under the state constitution. Since marijuana is legal in Colorado, that sniff can detect lawful activity, meaning the Sheriff’s Office had no choice but to retire its dogs and disband the K9 program, FitzSimons said.

“It’s certainly been a missing part of our deployment,” he said.

FitzSimons said he has wanted to start the K9 program back up for years but that the money wasn’t there to do it until a community member donated $15,000 to the Sheriff’s Office to relaunch the program.

The Summit County community member who donated the money wishes to remain anonymous, according to Fitzsimons, who described the person as an “ally of the Sheriff’s Office” concerned about drugs in the community.

While the former K9 program had dogs trained in bite apprehension, Blue will never pursue criminals and has no such training, Frost said. This means she will only assist with searches when the person being looked for is not expected to pose a threat.

It also means that community members will be able to pet and interact with Blue, Frost said.

“She’s super friendly, but she’s also very high energy. So I have to get her into a sit, get her to calm down a little bit before someone can just come up and say hi to her,” Frost said. “So really just ask if you can (pet her) because if we’re in the middle of a training scenario, absolutely not, please do not touch my dog. Otherwise I don’t mind.”

Blue is originally from Hungary and trained at Vohne Liche Kennels — a prestigious facility in Indiana — before coming to Summit County. FitzSimons said while the new K9 program is still getting up and running, Blue is a resource not only for the Sheriff’s Office but for the community as a whole.

“The dope is here,” FitzSimons said, “but it doesn’t mean we should allow that much dope to come through here.”

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