Fulton County sheriff’s canines make life ruff for criminals

Dax, Max and Sam are not your average Fulton County sheriff’s deputies.

Dax, Max and Sam are not your average Fulton County sheriff’s deputies.

For one thing, they have cold, wet noses. The other, more important difference is that they don’t draw salaries for fighting crime and tracking down bad guys.

This is because Dax, Max and Sam are police dogs, purebred German shepherds whose care and maintenance are supported entirely through community donations and fundraising.

The sheriff’s department has for years kept its canine program completely separate from its annual budget to protect the program from cuts or elimination, said Deputy Justin Loomis, who cares for Dax and Sam, or Samantha.

The program’s first major fundraiser of the year is today at the Fulton-Montgomery County Home Show and Craft Fair. All three dogs will be there to greet the community, Loomis said, and perhaps lick some hands and warm some hearts.

The sheriff’s department is selling T-shirts at the event to support the program. The two-day event runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at Broadalbin-Perth High School.

“We attend various functions throughout the year to raise money to support the program,” Loomis said.

To date, donations have helped keep the program going, Loomis said. “If we stop getting donations, it would be an issue,” he said.

The cost to care and maintain the three dogs averages about $3,000 annually, Loomis said. Sometimes Loomis will pay out of pocket for his dogs. In fact, he bought Samantha as a puppy and donated her to the Fulton County Sheriff’s Association. She is now 2 years old. The association bought Dax, now 21⁄2 years old, and Max, now 2. A second officer, Deputy Wayne Peters, is partnered with Max.

Max and Sam are trained to find narcotics, ranging from marijuana to heroin, while Dax is a tracking dog. All are certified with their handlers in their specialties, which means the handlers cannot switch dogs.

Loomis takes Dax and Sam home with him each night, where they are part of the family. “Sam is docile and good with kids,” he said, while Dax tends to be more protective but is gentle as a lamb with his wife.

Each day, he takes the dogs with him when he patrols. Like other road patrol deputies, he has an area to cover, but should the need arise, he and the dogs are available for assignments. Loomis and Peters each cover a separate shift with their dogs.

Loomis said he has received dozens of calls from agencies seeking assistance from the dogs. Local schools also call in the dogs to conduct drug searches of students’ lockers.

He personally uses the dogs during patrol to search vehicles when he has probable cause they may contain drugs.

Loomis said the canine program does not receive any money seized during drug arrests.

“I am predicting we will be getting a lot more calls for drug searches,” Loomis said, based on the state of the economy and the easy access to certain types of drugs in the community.

The current drug of choice, he said, is heroin, followed by prescription pills and cocaine.

Dogs are good at detecting narcotics because their noses are thousands of times more sensitive than a human’s and will find narcotics even if masked by strong odors, such as coffee grinds, Loomis said.

“You can try to mask it, but it won’t work. We have hidden cocaine in ceilings, and the dogs have found it,” he said.

Loomis said the dogs are “another tool to help prevent crime.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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