Jail responds to recent drug trends by training K9 Kait to detect fentanyl

K9 Kait Photos courtesy Chelan County regional justice center

Some of the training aids that were used to help train Kait, as well as a bottle of more that 50 fentanyl pills confiscated at the jail earlier this year.

With the rise of fentanyl use in the Wenatchee Valley, the Chelan County Regional Justice Center has responded by training its narcotics-detecting canine to identify the powerful synthetic opioid.

“Fentanyl is the current drug of choice in our community,” said Chris Sharp, director of the regional justice center. “It’s not meth, it’s not heroin. This is scary because not only is fentanyl easier to score, but the detox from it is so horrendous that it can make someone become suicidal.”

The jail relies on a three-prong approach to keeping drugs out of its facility. Two of those tools are the jail’s mail scanner and body scanner. The third is an easy-going and friendly 7-year-old border collie named Kait. Kait, who is one of only two narcotics-detecting dogs working in a municipal jail in the state, marks her second anniversary with the jail in early November.

“We have to keep this dangerous drug out of our jail as best we can,” Sharp said. “And one of the top tools that we have is K9 Kait.”

Corrections Deputy Jacob Lewis, who is Kait’s handler, started training Kait on detecting the new odor in August. She was initially trained on five odors; fentanyl makes it six. The training process, called imprinting, relied on the use of training aids that ranged from 1 gram to 75 grams and were soaked in fentanyl to absorb the odor. The training aids, compared to actual fentanyl, are a safer way of imprinting the odor on a narcotics-detecting dog.

Still, the new work comes with some potential new dangers for both Kait and Lewis.

Fentanyl in its powder form is unstable and can cause overdoses, or even death. For Kait’s and his safety, Lewis carries Narcan on his safety vest. Narcan, a lifesaving medicine that can revive someone who has overdosed on opioids, is available in several locations throughout the jail. Lewis also wears personal protection equipment, such as a mask and gloves.

“Prior to Kait being trained on the fentanyl, our drug searches in the jail were beginning to feel like they were in vain, that’s how dominate fentanyl is among drug users,” Lewis said. “Now that Kait is trained, we’re better able to respond to these drug trends in our community.”

Sharp stressed that the jail is dealing with the consequences of fentanyl every day. Most recently, fentanyl powder was found in a mail scan by jail personnel. Corrections officers also found 50 fentanyl pills, or about 10 grams, on a man booked into the jail prior to Kait’s training. The finds do not include the countless number of people who suffer from the symptoms of detoxing when booked into jail.

“Fifty pills in our jail could have had catastrophic outcomes,” Sharp said. “Kait is a vital tool in helping create an environment that is not only drug free but also safer for both the people we care for and the jail personnel who want to go home to their families every day.”  509-667-6545



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