By Dr. Ben McClelland
With contributions from Mindy Ladner, Mike Stewart, and a King County Detective, Washington
BURIEN — Quinn, a 2-year-old golden Labrador retriever, worked his first drug bust Wednesday, helping a team of veteran Burien police and King County sheriff’s detectives score an estimated $2.5 million worth of crystal meth, fentanyl and black-tar heroin before it could be cut up and dispatched across Western Washington.
The former Purina Puppy Chow model, certified as a narcotics-sniffing police dog just six weeks ago, did “exceptionally well” on his virgin foray into the dark, money-driven world of international drug smuggling, according to his K-9 handler.
The tables showed off a serious haul, part of what is believed to be one of the biggest drug caches in the Sheriff’s Office’s 170-year history. The operation, including earlier seizures, kept 400 pounds of methamphetamine, 31 pounds of heroin, 25 pounds of fentanyl powder and nearly 500,000 fentanyl pills from reaching the streets.
The combined street value of the drugs: more than $10 million, according to investigators. Detectives also seized four cars, eight guns and roughly $520,000 in cash that was likely destined for more drug purchases. Twelve people were arrested, six of them during coordinated stings Wednesday on houses, cars and hotels from Edmonds to Tacoma.
-The Seattle Times, December 24, 2022
Quinn is an exceptional dog, who attests to the power of selective breeding and expert training the Wildrose Way. Here’s his background story, including his lineage, puppy backgrounding, specialized training, and placement as a Narcotics K9 with King County Sheriff’s Department which includes Seattle, WA.
Quinn, the Puppy
In December of 2020 Mindy Ladner, a veteran Wildrose Mississippi staff member, had the opportunity to purchase a male puppy from a Legend-Julie litter, because a client passed on taking him at the last minute. Ladner had raised and trained Legend from a pup and hoped that the son would be as biddable. She was right. Ladner said, “I trained him in all of the background skills we do with all pups, plus my husband and I took him on numerous camping and kayaking trips. Quinn proved to be an excellent companion for such adventures. However, as he matured and got much larger, I realized that Quinn was going to be a bit too big for kayaking with his size.”
So, Ladner began training Quinn as a gundog. However, as Quinn grew into adolescence, Ladner experienced issues handling him. Ladner said, “Quinn was smarter than me, or at least he was sure he was!” So, Ladner approached Mike Stewart about taking Quinn to Colorado for the summer. Stewart routinely takes on the training of client dogs that require his special problem-solving expertise.
Quinn, Colorado Summer Training
Stewart took on Quinn’s training regimen, as he tells us:
“Quinn joined our 2022 summer training enrollment at the Wildrose training grounds, Clear Creek Ranch, Colorado. Mindy requested that he complete the Wildrose Basic Gundog course in the West with the goal of placing him as a Gentleman’s Gundog by fall. The training focus going forward would include stop to the whistle, steadiness, hand signals, and hunting in cover.”
Stewart found Quinn to be a hard-charging lab: bold, independent and passionate. He said, “Mindy did an excellent job with Quinn’s heel work, denials, place training, delivery, and social behaviors. My focus was to develop handling and hunting skills for a dog meant for game recovery. Over June and July, Quinn learned the primary skills for upland hunting: handling, quartering, and hunting cover. These practices are outlined in Chapter 8 of Sporting Dogs and Retriever Training, the Wildrose Way, which I followed precisely. Quinn had a natural passion for the work no matter the challenges of weather, obstacles, cover, or terrain. He had the drive and the nose for results.”
“In midsummer, Tom Smith, President of Wildrose Mississippi, received an inquiry from a narcotic detective with the King County Sheriff’s Department, Washington, seeking a well-started dog for narcotic detection. After discussions, it seemed Quinn was a logical fit. A good search/scent discriminator has the prerequisites of nose, drive, desire and temperament. Quinn checked all those boxes.”
“Return to the Days of Yesterday”
“Recalling my days in law enforcement and the occasional experiences with searches and K9 sniffers, I was excited to ‘seize’ the opportunity.” And so, Quinn’s transformational journey from bird hunter to narcotics hunter began.
“The first undertaking was to develop Quinn’s ability and understanding to search/hunt while on lead. This would be required in urban settings and is different from his unencumbered hunting afield for game.”
“We began searches by capitalizing on his excellent scenting abilities and his passion for tennis balls. The balls were scented with roll-on bird scent (available at wildrosetradingcompany.com). Why? At this stage of training, scent is scent. Obviously, I did not have access to the controlled substances that Quinn would later pursue. So, we searched for bird-scented tennis balls hidden in locations where the scent of narcotics were likely to be identified, both on vehicles and in structures.”
“We began working around my truck and with each recovery he was lavished with praise and allowed to catch the ball. The search expanded to the barn, patio and building exteriors. Quinn was a quick study and loved the games of hide and seek.”
“Next, we moved to the lodge and guest accommodations that are located on the ranch. Remember, according to the Wildrose Way, skills must be successful five times in five different locations before they can be considered a predictable habit. So, we searched the kitchen, the pool table area, the bar, the dining area, the guest rooms, and the laundry/storage areas. Quinn was red hot with success.”
“With the basic search skills mastered, the polish had to be added. These steps involved chaining a passive alert. When Quinn located the ball on a search, he retrieved it… the reward. This behavior would not be healthy when narcotics were detected. He could not touch any substance found.”
“As soon as Quinn became, shall we say “birdy” on scent, I conditioned him to sit for the alert. His reward became a Kong rubber bumper. This was his “toy,” not the scented substance. Why a Kong? I wanted the reward object for his enjoyment to be different from the Wildrose bumper that he would continue to retrieve in his exercise program. One was a fun bumper; the other was business… two objects – two behaviors.”
“Next came field control. I thoroughly trained Quinn in behaviors that would be expected on a call out:
- Sit quietly in an open vehicle
- No interaction with other dogs
- Exit and load in the vehicle on command
- Stay quiet when crated in the vehicle
- Relieve himself on command while on lead
- Sit quietly outside the vehicle as officers assemble
- Remain quiet and patient outside a doorway as officers identified their presence and made entry
- Remain calm upon entering a location to be searched: threshold conditioning
- During a search, remain controllable, so as to not damage property
- Be proficient with distractions – day/night searches, weather conditions, people present, blue lights flashing, other dogs on the scene. The Stimulus Package at work, for sure.”
“On September 5th, two deputies from the King County Sheriff’s Department arrived at the Colorado facility after a long drive from Seattle. One was to be Quinn’s permanent handler; the other was the evaluator. After demonstrations, Quinn’s assessment exceeded their expectations. Quinn departed that day to spend the next 30 days with his new handler. Quinn immediately adapted to his new home and loved the family. The evaluating deputy, who is the department’s Master K9 Trainer, advised Quinn’s new partner to ‘establish the relationship first, scent work will begin after 30 days.’ Great advice!”
Quinn, Narcotics K9
The detective of the King County Sheriff’s Office, who is Quinn’s handler that Stewart referenced, discusses his professional background and tells us about his work with Quinn.
“I am currently the narcotics detection K9 handler assigned to the Special Emphasis Team. K9 Quinn is the only narcotics detection K9 in the King County Sheriff’s Office, which is the largest Sheriff’s Office in the Northwest. The Special Emphasis Team is a plain clothes/ undercover detective unit that utilizes confidential informants, surveillance, and undercover operations. The Special Emphasis Team focuses on large scale complex drug investigations with ties to Mexican drug trafficking organizations, and it also provides a covert capability to Major Crimes Unit to target and apprehend violent high impact offenders.”
“As the K9 handler for the Special Emphasis Team, I have some non-traditional requirements of a narcotics detection K9. In addition to the normal requirements of a detection K9—superior nose and hunt drive—I also wanted a K9 that was exceptionally well mannered, exceptionally environmentally steady, and would thrive with long hours in the car or office. For my specific application, I did not need or want a K9 that would be ‘working’ 10 hours a day.”
“Through my research, I found the Wildrose Kennels and sent an email through their website. Speaking with both Tom Smith and Mike Stewart on the phone, I explained my unique requirements for a K9. They told me about a Quinn who was being trained by Mike at his Colorado kennel. Traveling to Colorado, I met Mike and spent the day with him, learning about Quinn and how Mike trains his dogs. I spent the first part of the day observing Mike and Quinn doing drills and skills and the second part of the day working Quinn. I am a new K9 handler so learning under Mike was quite beneficial.”
“When I returned home with Quinn, he and I went from being total strangers to becoming best friends in a very short period of time. Quinn’s pedigree and training with Mike made this transition very easy and fast. At work, Quinn and I are always together. He is either in the car with me or on ‘place’ in the office. I have found that the more work we do together, both training and real-world deployments, the stronger our bond and relationship becomes.”
“Quinn lives at home with me and is integrated into my home life. As with all working dogs, Quinn has boundaries and structure because he is not a pet. I train with Quinn every day to exercise his mind and body. This mental and physical exercise is vital to our work and makes our non-working times easy. There are days when I need Quinn to search multiple locations and be extremely active. But there are also days when we may spend hours on end being relatively sedentary on surveillance. I incorporate many of the drills and skills from Mike’s book during our off-duty days. I have found that these drills sharpen my skills as a handler and sharpen Quinn’s hunting, steadiness, confidence and obedience.”
“K9 Quinn is trained to alert to the odors of heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine. Washington State requires that certified narcotics detection canine teams complete +200 hours of K9 School with a certified trainer, pass a certification test, and complete a minimum of 4 hours of training every week. Although not always possible due to operational demands, I aim to put Quinn on drug odor every workday. I review my team’s active investigations for upcoming likely operational deployments and will attempt to replicate those environments in training. I also evaluate areas of improvement for myself and Quinn and work on those areas in training.”
“I have the best job in the department. Every day, I go to work with my best friend, Quinn, and work with a team of highly skilled detectives to disrupt drug trafficking organizations. I would like to highlight and sincerely thank the following people for the K9 Quinn’s initial success:
- Mike Stewart for Quinn’s foundational training and pedigree. Great K9’s start with great genetics and early training. I reaped the benefits of all the hard work that Mike put into Quinn.
- Detective Dave Keller for his mentorship, coaching and setting the example.
- K9 Officer Brad Smith with the Marysville Police Department for teaching, coaching and instructing the K9 School Quinn and I attended. Officer Smith is a regionally renowned, highly respected, and sought-after master K9 trainer for both detection and patrol work. Officer Smith has the unique ability to diagnose and fix issues with both K9’s and handlers.
- Detective Bill McCormick with the Regional Drug Task Force for his coaching and mentorship.”
Stewart provided a concluding note to Quinn’s journey from a Wildrose puppy to a Narcotics-Detection K9: “Last fall, Quinn completed his narcotics detection training and was certified by the State of Washington. He was now ready for deployment as a ‘Deputy Dog.’ On December 22nd, I received a message and photo, the best Christmas gift I could receive. Quinn’s first case was a stunning success with the recovery for huge amounts drugs and cash. So proud of Deke’s grandson. I must say I enjoyed my time with Quinn and I’m honored to have had the opportunity to make a Wildrose contribution to the war on drugs. ‘Go get ‘em boys!’”
At the detective’s request, the name of Quinn’s handler is withheld for job security reasons, as he and Quinn are actively engaged in ongoing enforcement action against major drug trafficking in the region.
The Seattle Times, “Major King County drug bust nets $10M worth of meth, fentanyl, heroin.” December 24, 2022. Sara Jean Greene.
Photo Credit, Quinn with Seized Drugs: Daniel Kim / The Seattle Times
Stewart, Mike. Sporting Dogs and Retriever Training, the Wildrose Way. New York: Universe Publishing, 2012. (Available at wildrosetradingcompany.com in hardcover or digital version.)