Whether he’s visiting with schoolchildren, giving tours of the police department or helping to find drugs, most people in town have met K9 Kenny.

K9 Kenny, a trained narcotics detection dog, is owned by Darien Police Officer Leslie Silva. Silva got Kenny — a 65-pound, five-year-old yellow Labrador retriever — when he was almost 3 years old. She named him Kenny after an officer, Kenneth Bateman, who was killed in the line of duty in Darien on May 31, 1981.

Training

Kenny is trained to be rewarded with food. Silva carries Kenny’s food — Blue Buffalo Grain Free dry food — in a food pouch at all times.

Kenny is trained to detect the odors of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and MDMA (ecstasy), “so those are the odors that he will show interest and alert on,” Silva said.

One way K9s are trained involves towel throws. The towel is soaked in a chemical that has an odor that’s identical to the actual drug the dog is trained to detect. The towel is thrown into a wooded area and the dog runs in, finds it and brings it back, and is rewarded.

“You do that over and over and over, and eventually those odors are all imprinted on his brain,” Silva said.

The K9 is trained several times a day with each odor individually, for three to four months. The handler keeps a log of the details of the training.

Once the dog gets the odors imprinted on his brain, “you move to the real narcotic. Then you go and get certified through the state and nationally,” she said.

Kenny doesn’t get his reward until he’s on the source of it. He’s trained to search people, cars, buildings, and outside in open fields.

When he comes upon an odor that he’s trained to detect, he exhibits changes in behavior. Change in behavior can include respiration and body position.

“He might move his head a certain way,” she said. “He would usually sit or lay down or point at it with his nose.”

Kenny alerts on the odor of narcotics — not the narcotics themselves. The odor can come from touch, such as from people having handled narcotics in a car before.

“So, there’s times when you search a car and don’t find anything but you talk to the driver and he says, ‘I smoke weed in my car all the time. My friends were in the car,’” Silva said.

Community policing

Fifty percent of Kenny’s job is community policing. He often goes into schools and meets with children.

Silva is the school liaison officer at Holmes Elementary School.

“I go into their second grade social studies unit every year,” Silva said. “I meet with the entire grade and let them ask questions.”

Also, if Silva is driving through the neighborhood and sees children in their yard, she pulls over so they can meet the dog.

“The kids are super excited,” she said.

She meets with a lot of Girl Scout troops who are working on earning their helper’s or community service badges.

She also gives tours of the police department.

The goal of being out in the community, according to Silva, is it gives a familiarity so that police officers don’t look scary.

“During these times, there’s some disconnect between what people think about police and what police really are,” Silva said. “So, if you can bridge that gap and you can be approachable and have the kids feel comfortable to talk to you — that is what I’m aiming to do.”

She added for a lot of younger children, “if they see police, they think something bad has happened or something is wrong.”

“We are approachable,” Silva said. “We’re just like everybody else. We are have families. We love dogs just as much as everybody else loves dogs.”

Silva and Kenny also participate in Coffee with a Cop events in town.

On the job

Kenny lives with Silva and her 11-year-old son.

“The police car comes home with me and back to work, so every shift that I work, he’s with me during that shift,” she said.

If the state changes the law on legalizing marijuana, Kenny may have to get retired early, according to Silva.

Kenny has been an invaluable asset to Silva through the years. She had many stories to share, one of which occurred last year when he assisted state police on a call at a rest stop.

“Kenny found a large amount of heroin in a vehicle that was in a parking lot,” Silva said. “The person that got arrested was a user of the drug. It was very apparent he needed medical attention because of the drug.”

However, she said police are very focused on drug dealers, as opposed to those who are taking the drug.

“We are looking for those who are distributing the drug. That person could cause someone to overdose and die from it. If I can get it off the street before it reaches a person who is addicted to it, that makes me happy.”

Silva continued, “It’s heart-wrenching to see the effects of people who are addicted and the effects of their addiction on their families. Addiction does not discriminate. It can happen anywhere. If that’s something that I can help curb with the dog being trained to find drugs, that’s my highest goal. To do that that means more to me than anything.”

sfox@darientimes.com