ANCHORAGE - Fort Yukon police have a new recruit named Raven, a 1-year-old drug-sniffing black Labrador retriever.
In her first month on the job, Raven has proven herself in the village of 600, flushing out two people carrying marijuana on incoming flights. Charges have been forwarded to the district attorney in Fairbanks, said Police Chief Reginald Fleming.
City Council member Debbie McCarty, who is a health aide in the village clinic, said she has long wanted the community to take a more aggressive stand on drug traffic.
"I see what happens here when people come in with drug problems, what happens as a result of drugs," McCarty said, including injuries stemming from accidents and assaults.
Mayor Vickie Thomas agreed on the need, despite Fort Yukon's size.
Communities in the northeastern Interior, such as Venetie and Arctic Village, use Fort Yukon as a hub city, she said. Pinching off the flow of drugs into Fort Yukon will ripple through the region, she said.
Chief Fleming located a black Lab pup that had undergone obedience training. The village then sent her through drug training at Fort Wainwright, which has a K-9 unit and trainers. A drug-sniffing dog has a working life of three to five years, he said.
So far, Raven and her handler have acted on tips from village residents that travelers are bringing drugs into town, Fleming said.
Dogs like Raven also can give an officer probable cause to investigate travelers who don't want their bags searched, he said.
"If they say no (to a search), you're out of luck. But a dog can pick up the smell and alert you. Then you have probable cause. You can tell the person you're going to seize their bag and get a search warrant."
Raven works by sniffing for a number of drugs, Fleming said. It's obvious when she makes a hit.
"She looks up at us, then looks down at whatever she hit on. She'll stop what she's doing and just sit down. It's like she's telling you, 'Hey, right here.' "