Committee approves 3 new drug dogs

The Interim Finance Committee Thursday cut the Nevada Highway Patrol's request to add dogs for the K-9 program from six to three, saying they want more time to see how it's working.

Public Safety officials had requested $546,511 to double the number of drug dogs on the road from six to 12 and add two bomb detection dogs.

Public Safety Director Jerry Hafen said the program, started last December, has already netted $2.7 million in cash from seizures and more than 300 pounds of illegal substances.

Chief J.V. Gagnon told lawmakers those dogs more than repaid the $398,000 paid to put them on the road in their first week, with seizures totaling $458,000.

"It's a self-sustaining program," said Hafen.

But Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, said she was surprised NHP was back so soon since the full program didn't get up and running until May - just four months ago.

"I thought we were going to give it some time," she said.

Hafen said because of the program's immediate success, he and his staff believe adding more dogs to seek out drugs on Nevada highways is "the first and foremost thing we can do for safety in the state of Nevada."

Leslie said she wouldn't support it until next session.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, offered a compromise, saying he would support adding three more drug dogs and holding off on the two bomb dogs.

He was told, however, that won't save very much money since the biggest cost is for the trainer, and his price would remain the same no matter how many dogs and officers were involved. That contract totals $101,592.

The rest of the money in that program goes primarily for dog food, kennels and other equipment, including the cage system in the K-9 officers' SUVs.

Hafen and Gagnon defended some of the expenses on that list. The kennel system, for example, costs more than $10,500 for each animal. The portable system, complete with air conditioning, can be moved if the dog is assigned a new handler.

Also on the list were stainless steel dog dishes costing more than $56.

"We bought cheap bowls and the dogs destroyed them," he said. "So we went with military spec stainless steel."

The dogs themselves, worth an estimated $9,000 apiece, don't cost anything. They are donated to the program by Nevada State Friends of K-9.

Several members of the committee voted for the additional three drug dogs. The rest of the members were silent.

The committee voted to kill the $221,812 sought for the two bomb detection dogs until they have more information on how the entire program is working.

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