Madawaska Police Officer Seth Querze, left, and Police Chief Jamie Pelletier present the town’s board of selectmen with a proposal to acquire and train a dog to help detect drugs and track missing people. (Chris Bouchard | St. John Valley Times)
MADAWASKA, Maine — Madawaska police will have help finding illegal drugs such as methamphetamine once the town’s recently approved drug-detection dog is on board.
Madawaska Police Chief Jamie Pelletier and Officer Seth Querze successfully pitched the idea during a recent selectmen’s meeting. Querze would be schooled to train and handle a drug detection dog, and in turn would train the dog once it is obtained.
Madawaska, a town just shy of 4,000 people, like other small Maine towns is looking for ways to combat substance use problems involving methamphetamines and narcotics.
“At this point, it’s a reality that there is a drug problem in our community,” said Pelletier. “And not just our community — it’s small town America. That’s just the world we live in today.”
To help put this in perspective, Querze said that from January to late August, he confiscated 312 grams of methamphetamine, 26.4 grams of fentanyl, six Xanax pills and 2.6 grams of psychedelic mushrooms. Although he did not have the total amount of cocaine that he confiscated within this period, he said that about 17 grams of cocaine was seized at a recent bust.
He would have missed the cocaine entirely if a fellow officer had not suggested searching through all the kitchen cabinets, he said.
“It would have saved us some time if we had a dog that could’ve gone in there and done a sweep on the whole house,” he said.
Meth makes up the majority of the town’s drug seizures, according to Madawaska Police Sgt. Sam Dechaine.
Just six years ago, the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency in Madawaska busted one of the largest meth labs they had ever encountered. The lab was run by a couple who had two children in the house. Officials seized 80 containers that were allegedly used to make methamphetamine.
Fentanyl is almost always found whenever other hard drugs, like meth, are seized, Querze said, but the dog would not be trained to detect fentanyl as part of the current proposal.
“The normal drug detection training is more for methamphetamine and narcotic-based drugs,” said Querze. “You have to go through another extensive training for fentanyl.”
The police dog also would be used to find lost children and adults and people with mental illness. The dog would not be trained to bite or attack anyone, nor would it be trained to detect marijuana since that drug is legal in Maine.
The dog has not been born yet. Pelletier said that Spruce Valley German shepherd breeding facility in St. Agatha agreed to donate an extra dog out of the next litter that has more than five puppies, plus six months of food, vaccination bills and the first year of veterinarian bills.
He said the department may be able to buy an old patrol vehicle from the Sheriff’s Office for $5,000. The vehicle has high mileage, but is outfitted to transport police dogs. If another new or used vehicle is purchased, most of what’s needed to outfit it for a police dog could be paid for through grants, Pelletier said.
“We need another car at some point,” he said. “And I’m hoping that happens in the next budget year.”
The chief estimated that dog food would cost about $600 per year. And since Querze would be training the dog himself, he would be given four hours of overtime per week to do it. The chief said this is the standard under current federal labor laws. It adds up to about an extra $7,800 per year.
The selectmen unanimously approved the proposal, with the caveat that they could work out future funding details, such as purchasing a vehicle to accommodate the dog, at a later time.
Pelletier commended Querze for his willingness to take responsibility for raising and training the dog.
“He’s essentially putting his social life on hold for an indefinite period,” Pelletier said. “The nights of sitting at home by a campfire and drinking beers are probably not gonna happen for him, because he’ll be on call all the time.”