Drug-detecting Kait adds to Chelan County jail’s prevention toolkit

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WENATCHEE — Kait, a 5-year-old border collie, only has eyes for her handler, Corrections Deputy Jacob Lewis. But she has a nose for illegal drugs – cannabis, methamphetamine, opioids, and anything else that might secretly come into the Chelan County Regional Justice Center.

“Kait and I have been a team together since November,” Lewis says. “We got paired together in October during training, and then we went into service Nov. 9. She’s with me 24 hours a day. Goes home with me, comes to work with me.

“She’s into the routine. When we’re at home, I take the vest off, I tell her she’s all done, and she lounges around and plays just like a regular dog. When she’s got the vest on, she knows it’s time to go to work.”

Kait’s boss Lewis is in charge of drug interdiction at the jail, which can house up to 267 detainees. For years, corrections officers there had to be alert to drugs brought in by newly booked detainees, or sent in by outsiders. Jail director Chris Sharp says it’s a constant problem for every detention center.

“We’re a 35-year-old building,” Sharp said. “Individuals that become incarcerated became very creative over the years on how to smuggle things into facilities that didn’t have the detection devices available to prevent it.”

But last year, Chelan County spent about $990,000 for new equipment: More cameras, from 60 to about 160. A body scanner, to locate smuggled items that inmates might hide internally. A mail scanner, which can detect foreign substances sent in through the post office.

And Kait, the least expensive of all those items. It cost the jail just $9,500 to acquire the dog, and train and outfit Lewis for her handling.

“We are only the second city jail or county jail in the state with a working canine,” Sharp says. “The prisons have them … it’s just not popular in jails. So we’re super proud of our canine program.”

Kait spent two years working with a tribal police agency before joining the Chelan County team. She can be used to search cells and incoming detainees, but a big part of her job is sniffing the mail.

Lewis shows off a small cache of items that Kait has detected during regular mail sorting, including envelopes and cards with suboxone strips secreted in the folds, and letters sent on paper impregnated with methamphetamine. He says word of the new security has gotten around, and attempts to bring or send drugs into the jail are on the decrease.

“In February we had a find about every single day in the mail,” he says. “Then after the last piece of legal mail that came through, all of a sudden — I think we get a find once every two months.”