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New officer sinks her teeth into job

Young, blond and cute, Amber is the newest and arguably the most popular member of the Port Orchard Police Department.

But her partner Officer Randy Ernst says he doesn’t want her to be popular — he wants everyone to hate her.

“If we do our job right, they will,” Ernst said, explaining that the golden lab’s job is not to make friends — it’s to sniff out drugs.

“And she’s got a wonderful nose,” he said, adding that his new canine partner graduated at the “top of her class” last month in Marysville. “She didn’t miss one drug.”

If Ernst sounds like a proud new father, it’s because now that he’s working with a 15-month-old all day, he sort of is.

“It’s like having a child,” he said, explaining that bringing Amber with him means he must schedule plenty of bathroom breaks, walks and play time into his work routine. “She’s still a puppy, so sitting in the back of the car gets really boring. I have to remind myself to let her out every hour or so.”

Because if she doesn’t get out enough, he said, she starts to chew — everything. A habit he said he discovered while they were still training together.

“She chewed up the whole back of my car,” he said, explaining that while he was in classes, Amber kept busy gnawing on wires, the insides of the doors and the back seat — whatever she could get her teeth on.

Luckily, Ernst said she’ll eventually grow out of her urge to chew, and even though she’ll never learn how to hold a decent conversation like a human partner, she’s already more than proved her worth as a drug dog.

“She’s an awesome tool for the department,” Ernst said, explaining that Amber has sniffed out drugs, drug money and even some residue during her short tenure.

“(Drug dogs) are extremely useful, especially for finding drugs in hidden compartments,” said Chief Al Townsend, explaining why his department lobbied the community to help them buy a new dog after Charlie, its nine-year-old black lab, retired last year.

“Humans look with their eyes,” said Charlie’s handler, Det. Beth Deatherage, whom Ernst said now supervises his work with Amber. “(Dogs) look with their noses, so they are never fooled.”

In fact, Ernst said Amber sniffs with a nose that is about 1,000 times better than a human’s at picking up scents, which means she can detect drugs that aren’t even there anymore, often finding scant residue in empty bags or on large stashes of money confiscated from suspects.

Despite their worthy skills, most police departments — including Port Orchard’s — do not have enough money in their budgets to “hire” dogs, which cost several thousands of dollars to buy.

Townsend said his department was able to replace Charlie with Amber thanks to many donations from the community, including $5,000 from the Peninsula Dog Fanciers Club last June.

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