County drug dog at work

By By BEN RAYMOND LODE / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- A man and a yellow labrador named Noel have in a short time become inseparable.
And that is exactly how Deputy Eugene Casto with the Berrien County Sheriff's Department wants it.
A road patrol officer for 10 years, Casto is currently in charge of the county sheriff's department's first-ever narcotics dog.
Casto, who graduated from Kalamazoo Valley College's Police Academy in 1990, said Noel came into service at the end of April this year following six weeks of training at Drexlers School for Dogs.
Being in charge of the department's new narcotics dog means Casto is on call 24-hours a day, seven days a week.
Which is also why the dog stays with him day and night.
Casto said Noel is used on all search warrants and has so far assisted several different county agencies with his abilities.
He said the advantage for a narcotics division to have a dog specifically trained to detect drugs is huge.
The county's 10-man strong narcotics unit, however, will always need agents to investigate cases.
In fact, from what Casto has heard, a dog's nose is one million times better than the human nose.
Although Casto said he hasn't done any large drug busts with Noel yet, the two have found narcotics at places they have been called too.
But despite his training, Noel is more than a sniffer dog.
Casto, who picked a lab because of its docile nature, said he will take Noel to schools.
Noel will also be used in the DARE program.
Which is why he didn't want a breed more known for its aggressive nature.
For the dog to retain its sniffing skills, Casto does weekly training.
That includes letting the dog sniff cocaine, heroine, marijuana, meth-amphetamine and other drugs commonly used.
But training also includes sniffing packages, searching cars and luggage.
Although Noel is the county's first specialized narcotics dog, it may not be the last.
Casto said the county sheriff wants more sniffer dogs, but wants to start out slow with the new program to get a feel for the costs associated with having a specialized K-9 unit.
Other police agencies in the county who currently only have cross trained dogs may want to follow suit if Noel is a long term success.

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