LIHUE — Simon sniffs the ground in front of him, searching on all fours.
The first box doesn’t yield any results and neither does the second one. It isn’t until the third try when Simon finds what he’s looking for — illicit drugs.
After sniffing out the drugs, he stands silent, pointing his partner, Arnold Cayabyab, to what he found.
Simon is a 10-year-old Belgian malinois that works for the Kauai Police Department to detect narcotic drugs. He joined the force in 2008. For a time, he was the only dog in KPD’s K-9 unit. About a year ago, he was joined by Tora, a 3-year-old Dutch shepherd.
The dogs know the smell of methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin and marijuana, all of which are on Kauai, Cayabyab said.
“KPD’S K-9 unit is tasked with doing drug interdiction at the airports, harbors, mail carrier sorting facilities. We also handle K-9 requests from patrol and the vice section,” he said.
Tora and Simon are trained in passive alert, meaning they sniff drugs out and sit at attention until their handlers make the call to investigate.
If need be, they can sit at attention all day, Cayabyab said.
The dogs are trained from six months old. To get them used to their surroundings, handlers will take the dogs on the streets to simulate a bust. Real drugs are also used in training.
Cayabyab and his fellow hander, Aaron Relacion, took written and oral tests before being certified as handlers. And they’re required to complete 120 hours of training with their dogs.
The KPD K-9 unit began in 1989 and was started by the late Officer Clint Bettencourt, who partnered with K-9 Bossco, said Sarah Blane, county spokeswoman.
During that time, Roy Asher, assistant chief of the Patrol Service Bureau, was also part of the K-9 unit, partnering with K-9 Eros.
“Eros was my best partner,” Asher said.
Cayabyab, who has about 14 years with KPD, said he wanted to be part of the K-9 unit because it was another side of law enforcement to learn.
“I’ve learned and been a part of many aspects of police work and not too many officers can say they’ve been a canine handler,” he said.
Relacion, a KPD officer since 2006, said he had his sights set on the K-9 unit.
“I always had a fascination with how smart these trained canines are and how much of a great tool they are against the war on drugs,” he said.
But being a handler demands sacrifice, Cayabyab said.
“It requires a lot of commitment to the department which would take a lot of time away from family due to training and being available whenever a canine is called upon,” he said.
Part of that commitment is monthly maintenance training with the dogs, to make sure their skills are honed.
“(Maintenance training) should sustain and enhance the performance of the canine, handler, and K-9 team as a whole, and should challenge the capabilities of the K-9 team,” Cayabyab said.
During his time with the department, Simon has seized 10 pounds of crystal meth and 70 pounds of marijuana. He has also recovered half a pound of cocaine, heroin and ecstasy and $150,000 worth of drugs.
In her short time with the K-9 unit, Tora has seized about a half-pound of methamphetamine, 1.5 pounds of marijuana, 4.57 grams of cocaine, and 0.59 grams of heroin, which totaled $225,310.
Simon and Tora stick to their handler’s sides. They go home with Cayabyab and Relacion every night and go to work with them the next day.
“The bond between a police dog and a police officer is strong; we rely on each other for protection,” Cayabyab said. “He is like your child and you will protect him, teach him and care for him and he will look up at you for guidance and direction.”
That bond between dog and officer is important, Relacion said.
“We count on each other to be successful in locating these drugs,” he said. “It’s like caring for your child, you have to teach her, care for her, and she will work hard at what she is trained to do.”