Cheyenne, – For a second time in four years, Wyoming Department of Corrections (WDOC) Sergeant Jory Shoopman and her Narcotic Detection K9, took ”Top Dog” at a regional certifying course for the United States Police Canine Association (USPCA).
Sgt. Shoopman and K9 Hunter placed first overall in the Detector Trial category for Region 14 which consists of Wyoming, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and Hawaii. Shoopman and Hunter achieved a near perfect score of 196.33 points out of a possible 200. The certification trial was held in late April in Woodland Park, Colorado. For their achievement, Shoopman and Hunter received the 2019 Kyle Hall Memorial Award for Outstanding Narcotic Detection Score.
The utilization of K9s represents a highly cost effective and reliable asset in detecting the presence of illegal narcotics and preventing such drugs from entering WDOC facilities.
WDOC has two K9 teams assigned to the Department’s Investigative Services Unit (ISU). Shoopman has handled Hunter for four years, and Sergeant Randy Speiser has handled K9 Copper for 2 months. Hunter and Copper are Labrador mixes. They were obtained by WDOC through an organization called MidWest K9 which specializes in providing basic narcotic detection services to rescue dogs identified as candidates for the program.
In addition to detecting drugs inside Wyoming’s prisons, the WDOC K9 Unit provides support to local law-enforcement, probation and parole agents and other community organizations when requested. Hunter and Copper are trained to detect 6 types of narcotics: Marijuana, Cocaine, Methamphetamine, Ecstasy, Heroin and Mushrooms. Both K9s are trained for the single purpose passive detection, meaning they are not trained to track or attack. In order to receive initial WDOC authorization for USPCA accreditation, K9 teams must go through 360 hours of training and practice. Sgt. Shoopman and Hunter received their initial certification in 2016 and came in 1st place that year as well.
Once certified, teams must re-test on an annual basis which is no easy task. “This past March, I’d estimate Hunter and I put in around 30 hours of training to get ready for the recertification test,” Shoopman said, adding that the pair also conducted 111 searches during the same time period. “A lot of hard work went into getting ready for the trials. It’s a big relief every year when we get through the recertification process. I’m extremely proud this year that we came in with the best score,” Shoopman said.
The re-certification testing process consists of both an outdoor and indoor phase. For the outdoor test, drugs are hidden in two of five vehicles lined up in a row. Handlers will guide their dogs around the vehicles while giving specific verbal commands. The dogs are trained to sit down next to the vehicles where they detect the drug scent. For the indoor portion of the test, the dogs must find drugs hidden inside a room filled with furniture such as desks and closets.
According to Shoopman, there are a lot of different facets involved in drug-dog training. In addition to learning obedience and scent detection, the dogs and their handlers must learn to work together. “It’s definitely a team effort,” Shoopman said. “As handlers, we have to develop a lot of skills so our dogs will do what we want them to do. We have to learn how to read the dogs, and the dogs have to learn how to read us. It’s important to train as much as possible, so we can be ready to conduct effective, lawful searches at any given time.”
Major Tim Rysell, who oversees the WDOC’s ISU, said he is incredibly proud of the effort put forth by Shoopman and Hunter. “It’s exciting to see Jory and Hunter being recognized and respected by a national organization,” he said. Rysell and Shoopman credit WDOC Lieutenant Dan Downs and USPCA Executive Board Member Joe Clingan for playing an integral role in preparing Shoopman and Hunter for their test. “We could not have done it without their help,” said Shoopman.
According to their website, “USPCA’s testing is considered to be the field’s toughest and only national police K9 certification. There are over 48 U.S. Supreme and Federal District Court rulings that acknowledge the USPCA test as a bonafide Police K9 test and evaluation.”