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[whitespace] K-9 Time

Los Gatos--When Los Gatos Police officer Sam Wonnell and his new partner, Officer Quarz, were searching for a suspect down by the creek, Wonnell sent Quarz down a trail where he thought the suspect might be. Quarz, a 2 1/2-year-old German shepherd, is the Los Gatos-Monte Sereno Police Department's first K-9 unit and, according to his trainer, Jim Stark, "an excellent searching dog." He went 10 feet down the trail, then turned around and went searching in another direction. "He was trying to tell me, 'There's nobody here, Dad,' " Wonnell said. "He tracked through the bushes where I wouldn't have normally gone and took me straight to the feet of the guy I was looking for."

Aside from general patrol duty with Wonnell, Quarz's excellent searching skills and sensitive nose will be used to find and recover drugs. This week, the two are beginning a month-long intensive narcotics search and recovery training program with Stark at Witmer-Tyson Imports in Menlo Park.

"The problem of drugs is significant in our community," Capt. Jeff Miller said, explaining why the department decided to use $7,500 in grant money toward a dog trained in drug detection. The funding came from a local law enforcement block grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance as part of the Office of Justice Planning. "Quarz is another tool our officers can use in their efforts to curb drug crimes. [Acquiring Quarz] made the most sense given the prevalence of drugs in our area," Miller added.

While the number of crimes committed in Los Gatos has generally decreased since 1994, the incidence of drug offense has risen every year since 1995, according to a police report. The department is hoping Quarz can help reverse the trend.

"A dog can tell you exactly where an item is located without having to open drawers or go through stuff," Stark explained. "Their ability to search for and locate drugs is so much faster and more efficient than an officer's."

Quarz will assist in drug warrant searches and consent searches, although there are no plans for him to replace the company that periodically brings drug-sniffing dogs to Los Gatos High School.

Over the next four weeks, Quarz will be taught the specific odors of such drugs as cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana and heroin. The drugs will be packaged and realistically hidden in cars, buildings and cabinets. Quarz will be rewarded with praise, food or a toy when he finds them.

"The drug work is more of a game to him than the protection work. It's like a big game of hide-and-seek," Wonnell said. While Quarz's job is to pick up the scent trail, Wonnell's job is to help Quarz figure out where the scent is coming from using clues such as wind direction and visible hiding places. "We complement each other," Wonnell said.

For trainer Stark, it's hard to verbalize the close relationship between officer and dog that is an essential element of training. "It's really fascinating to watch. So much of it is forming a tight bond and then training dog and officer together as a team," Stark said.

The pair hit it off immediately when Wonnell went to Germany in June to pick up Quarz and to attend a four-week obedience, protection and tracking academy. At the police station, their partnership is obvious. Quarz, still a gangly, energetic, teenager with a charcoal muzzle, is constantly at Wonnell's side, expectantly watching his every move. When Wonnell is on duty, Quarz will always be at his side. When Wonnell is off-duty, Quarz has a special kennel at Wonnell's residence.

"I always have a backup along with me, looking out for me. When I make a car stop his eyes are always on me and I feel safe, and I feel other people are safe too," Wonnell said, running his hand through Quarz's tan and pepper coat. "There isn't anything I wouldn't do for this guy, he's a great partner. I feel very fortunate to have this position."
Leigh Ann Maze

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Web extra to the October 28-November 3, 1999 issue of Metro.

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