There was a drug search at Wilton High School yesterday, and Wilton’s K-9 officer, Baso and his police handler Ofc. Eric Patenaude were on hand to sniff out the contraband.
Thankfully it was just a demonstration for WHS students, who got the opportunity to learn more about what the K-9 team does and see them up close in action.
Roseann DeSimone is the health teacher at WHS who put the program together as part of her curriculum, after hearing from students that they would like to learn more about the search and seizure process. They wanted to demystify the “why” of such searches being performed.
“They have so many questions, and rumors spread so fast around this place. They said, ‘The whole policy and procedure for search and seizure is a mystery to us, we have no clue what’s going on.’ Hearing it from the horse’s mouth would be the best thing. So [school resource officer] Rich Ross and Eric and I worked this summer on a curriculum to get the dog here. I got permission from [WHS principal] Bob O’Donnell, and it has been awesome,” DeSimone says.
In addition to the demonstrations for her health classes, she extended invitations to the physical education classes, to maximize the number of students who were able to learn about the canine police team. This semester half of the student body–around 600 students–watched Baso in action; next semester the other half will get the opportunity to observe.
Outside at Lilly Field, Patenaude greeted the 60 or so students on his own first, while Baso stayed in the car. He explained that he’d be bringing Baso out to meet everyone, but that he isn’t the kind of dog that should be petted or played with by strangers. As a working dog, it’s important that Baso be allowed to be ‘on the job’ without distractions. As Patenaude walked his canine partner down the line of kids sitting on the bleachers, and showed some of the commands that he uses to direct Baso, the students got an idea of just how connected the two are.
Patenaude then talked about how a K-9 officer works–how Baso tracks odors, how sensitive his sense of smell is, what he’s trained to do during traffic stops or searches at the school. He dispelled the notion that Baso would get confused if students put meat or dog treats in the lockers to ‘throw off the scent’ of narcotics or just for a laugh (as has happened in the past). Baso’s sense of smell is so precise it can tell the difference between all the various ingredients in a beef stew–or if there’s marijuana hidden behind that meat.
Then came the search demo. Patenaude had hidden a baggie of methamphetamine on a car, and gave Baso the command to scent it out. It took about 15 seconds at most for Baso to locate the drugs that were hidden behind the car’s fuel cap cover. Even with the strong scent of gasoline, Baso still found the stash.
Among the other things the duo showed was how Baso is rewarded–not with treats, but he gets to play tug of war with Patenaude. The officer also trains Baso using a padded sac with handles, teaching the dog how to latch on with his jaws and not let go until he gets the command to do so. To Baso, it’s fun and rewarding and what he likes to do most.
Patenaude then gave the kids the opportunity to ask questions, and there were plenty of great ones. Everything from what Baso eats (raw meat) to whether there’s a ‘Kill’ command (definitely not). One of the most interesting things to learn was that Patenaude carries not only a human dose of Narcan in case he has to administer it to a citizen, but also a canine dose, in case Baso comes too close in contact with any illegal drugs.
Through it all, Patenaude had a professional and easygoing way with the kids, joking with them at times, and being very approachable. Since doing the program for at least nine classes, he’s been approached by WHS students around town with more questions, or just to say, ‘Hi’ to him and Baso.
“Just to have the kids see the officers as human beings, and that they’re not the disciplinarians they see when they get stopped or whatever, that they can talk to them. Students stop Officer Ross in the hallway and say, ‘Can I talk to you for a minute?’ or ‘I heard something, you may want to check it out.’ To have that kind of relationship, and now that it’s starting with Eric, that a student would stop and start a conversation, to me that’s the best class ever,” DeSimone says.
Patenaude adds in, “It happened to me again yesterday. Four girls came up and they said, ‘You were at the school and you did the demo! Do you have the dog with you?’ I said, ‘Yeah, windows are down, go back and see him.'”
To which DeSimone responds, “If we didn’t have this program, you wouldn’t have had that. It really is a win-win situation.”
She says that the program will become a standard addition to the freshman health curriculum, so that beginning next year every incoming class will learn more about it.