Redmond mourns its drug hero

Police dog Tanja was an expert at finding narcotics

Erik Hidle / The Bulletin /

Published Sep 18, 2011 at 05:00AM

REDMOND — Police K9 Tanja, a 10-year-old Belgian Malinois and three-year member of the Redmond Police Department, died Thursday after a battle with stomach, lung and brain cancer.

Tanja joined the force in November 2008 as the department's drug detection dog. Over the course of two years she helped seize more than 100 pounds of marijuana, six pounds of methamphetamine, two pounds of cocaine and small amounts of heroin. A conservative estimate is that Tanja's efforts took around $250,000 worth of drugs off the street.

“Tanja was a remarkable dog,” said Lt. Nathan Garibay. “She was incredibly accurate. I can say without a doubt that if she alerted then there was something there.”

Tanja's handler, Officer Ryan Fraker, was unavailable for comment.

“He just lost a partner,” Garibay said. “When a dog retires, the officer keeps them. They buy them from the department for $1. That bond that gets created, between the two, it's incredibly strong.”

Garibay said Tanja came down with a case of “general malaise” over the summer and began to lose weight. In August the department decided to retire Tanja. She was diagnosed with cancer Monday.

Tanja was one of three dogs the department keeps in the K9 unit and served as the only narcotics detector.

Tanja's duties included general search and scent detection for drugs and paraphernalia during traffic stops, home searches and school patrols.

Her documented finds include drugs stashed inside walls and locked storage units, buried underground and inside hidden vehicle compartments.

As one of the top drug dogs in the region, Tanja also worked with Central Oregon Drug Enforcement, Deschutes County Sheriff's Office, Bend Police Department, Oregon State Police, Jefferson County Sheriff's Office and Crook County Sheriff's Office.

Redmond's two other K9 officers, Ruch and Arco, work patrol and are trained for tracking and apprehension of suspects, handler protection and evidence detection.

All three animals were purchased through grant funds and donations from the community.

In October the department expects a new Belgian Malinois, Ike, to join the force as Tanja's replacement. Ike's purchase and training is being funded as part of a drug enforcement grant that provided the department with $46,000 in 2011.

The K9 unit was formed in 2000 with the intent of improving force effectiveness. For example, searching a field for a firearm dumped by a suspect could take hours for human officers but only moments for a well-trained dog.

“When you have the right dog with the right temperament and the right handler, you see some great results,” Garibay said.

Garibay said the unit is crucial in the department's efforts to protect the community.

“Both the dogs and their handlers are very well trained and have provided quite a benefit to the community,” he said. “They're chasing people down hiding in yards or homes and fleeing police. They're catching people the community deserves to be protected from.”