A shelter rescue dog named Sawyer is now the bane of drug criminals in the Tri-Cities area after joining the Benton County Sheriff’s Office as a drug-detection K-9 officer.

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KENNEWICK — Criminals in the Tri-Cities will have a harder time trying to stash their drugs with Sawyer on duty.

Sawyer, an 18-month-old Golden labrador/Shar-Pei mix, is the Benton County Sheriff’s Office’s new K-9 drug dog, and he’s already proved to be effective.

“We have been deployed twice and found what we were looking for,” said Deputy Joe Mehline, who is Sawyer’s handler.

Sheriff Jerry Hatcher wanted to get a police dog back in place.

“(Sawyer) will do searches in the jail, and they are assigned to the sheriff’s office Gang Enforcement Team,” said Cmdr. Steven Caughey. “It’s always a benefit to have a drug dog.”

The Kennewick Police Department, Sheriff’s Office and the Pasco Police Department are the only agencies with police dogs in the Tri-Cities area.

Sawyer was rescued from a shelter in Oregon. He’s trained to find cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine in amounts as small as three-hundreths of an ounce.

Mehline met Sawyer at the state Department of Corrections’ Narcotic Detection Dog Training in Shelton a couple months ago.

“I didn’t know him until I got there,” Mehline said. “They had about a dozen dogs there at the start, and we got to interact with them and figure out which dog we liked and could work with.”

Mehline and Sawyer were new to the K-9 scene when they arrived at training, but they quickly adapted to their new jobs.

By the end of the six-week course, they graduated at the top of their class with a 93.9 percent find ratio.

They also got a perfect score on “hell Night,” a several-hourslong exercise held after training that puts the dog and handler to work to find narcotics in rooms, cars, open spaces and packages.

“I heard that (score) was unprecedented,” Caughey said.

Mehline, who has been with the Sheriff’s Office since June, spent 10 years as a police officer in Federal Way.

The pair has been working with Kennewick’s two K-9 units — Officer Isaac Merkl with drug dog Bear, and Officer Brad Kohn with apprehension dog Axel.

“KPD has been catching me up going from a sterile environment to real life,” Mehline said. “They are very experienced. They know what it’s like to have a green handler and dog.”

Sawyer lives with Mehline and his family, which has been a good fit. He’s great with Mehline’s kids and is “super playful”, Mehline said.

“It’s been a 180-degree turn for him,” Mehline said. “He went from being in the shelter to being employed.”

But he also knows when it’s time to go to work.

“When he sees me in uniform, he leaves the kennel and heads to the car,” Meh­line said.

Caughey said he knows Sawyer would like to meet the rest of the staff in the office, but they are holding off until he has been through more training.

“We want him to be sociable, but he needs to maintain his discipline,” he said.

Caughey also said there are plans to add a patrol dog in the near future.