Meet the Dogs Fighting Fentanyl

by Sheila Polk, Yavapai County Attorney

Meet Haddie. She’s a German Shepherd, an awesome dog, and best friend of her partner Deputy Travis Hartman. Most importantly to the safety of residents in Yavapai County, she can detect illegal fentanyl, the deadly drug that can kill with just one pill. 

Haddie is one of three certified canines (K-9s) assigned to PANT, Yavapai County’s drug task force. 

Haddie comes from Canada and was trained by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. When Canada legalized marijuana, their drug dogs were replaced by the government.

“Their loss, our gain,” says PANT Sgt. Jarrod Winfrey, a narcotics detective for over 10 years. 

Haddie joins Vader, a Belgian Malinois acquired from Waddell Kennels, and Maximus, a Dutch Shepherd acquired from the Goodyear Police Department. These three K-9s and their handlers (we call them partners) make up the phenomenal PANT K-9 unit. They can detect marijuana, meth, cocaine, heroin and now fentanyl. 

Fentanyl is quickly becoming America’s deadliest drug. According to Sgt. Winfrey, “If not for naloxone (an antidote), fentanyl would be the No. 1 drug killing our kids.” 

Judge Anna Young, Presiding Judge of the Yavapai County Juvenile Court, concurs: “We’ve had an explosion of fentanyl use by our youth in the last six months.” 

Fentanyl is the deadly drug that snuffed out the lives of four local youth, Gunner Bundrick, Jake Morales, Hannah Cupp, and most recently, a 14-year old girl. Eighty to one hundred times more potent than morphine, fentanyl is so deadly that our K-9s train only with fake fentanyl so they won’t be exposed to a lethal amount. Illicit fentanyl is packaged primarily as fake prescription pills. One recent bust in Yavapai County even found fentanyl in fake baby aspirin. 

Haddie, Vader and Maximus are working hard to get this deadly poison off the streets of Yavapai County. These K-9s and their partners, Yavapai County Sheriff Deputies Travis Hartman, Trevor Hearl and Nate Camacho, train at least 1-2 hours every day. Some units train once a week for several hours.

“But,” says Sgt. Winfrey, “these dogs are smart. When you set aside one day a week for training, they quickly learn the difference between a training day and a day on the job. We found that training every day keeps them sharp and at their best.”

So sharp, in fact, that several are award-winning dogs. Winfrey’s dog Gemma, a Belgian Malinois now retired, won the Detection Case of the Year for 2016 by the National Police Association. Miley, also a Belgian Malinois, and her partner Sgt. Eric Lopez of the Sheriff’s Office, won the K9 Officer of the Year in 2017 from the Arizona Narcotics Officers’ Association. Vader, along with Deputy Hearl, were very recently awarded the K9 Officer of the Year for 2019.

What happens to these hard-working, fiercely loyal, eager-to-please K-9s when their law enforcement partner is reassigned duties or promoted to another position? As you can imagine, the bond between dog and officer is deep; after all, they spend almost every hour of every day together in work, training and play. 

Yavapai County Sheriff Scott Mascher knows how strong the bonds are and that these furry working partners become best friends with their handlers. The happy ending to this story is that the dogs are officially retired and allowed to live with the officers and their families forever more. 

Sgt. Winfrey worked with his dog Gemma for over seven years. Now retired, Gemma revels in her role as family pet, best friend — and protector — of Winfrey, his wife and their two children.

And Haddie? She hits the streets every day with her partner doing what she can to remove fentanyl from our communities. 

Sheila Polk is the Yavapai County Attorney and serves as member of PANT, the Yavapai County narcotics taskforce.

Photo: Left: Gemma, now retired, is a Belgian Malinois and lifetime partner of YCSO Sgt. Jarrod Winfrey. Gemma has national fame having won the Detection Case of the Year for 2016 by the National Police Association; Right: Haddie is a German Shepherd trained by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to detect the deadly fentanyl. Her partner is YCSO Deputy Travis Hartman.