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HENDRICKS COUNTY, Ind. — Local law enforcement K9 handlers are taking precautions to protect their four-legged partners from the dangers of fentanyl. 

Co-founder and chair of the Central Indiana K9 Association, Corporal Kyle Schaefer says fentanyl can be 30 to 50 times more potent than other drugs, and dogs are not immune to those effects. 

“As a handler and as a trainer, we are very cautious and concerned,” said Corporal Schaefer. 

Schaefer is a K9 handler with Hendricks County Sheriff’s Office. He says when searching vehicles for drugs, humans have their skin as a barrier and often use gloves. But dogs use their nose and they can easily inhale fentanyl and absorb it directly into their bloodstream. 

Corporal Shaefer says the dogs don’t know what they are looking for, they are just trained to sniff out the drugs. When a drug is laced or cut with fentanyl, they usually have no idea. 

“The dog doesn’t know that he’s looking for illegal substances, he’s just doing a job that we ask him to do. So, we train them in order to get their reward. They need to find these four drugs. The dog is thinking, ‘This is fun, Dad, I’m going to please Mom or Dad, you ask me to do a job.’ As a handler, we are responsible for them, so we have to be very cognitive of what they’re doing and what they’re around,” Corporal Schaefer said. 

He says now they are moving away from searching the inside of vehicles and many K9 handlers are also carrying Narcan for the dogs just in case. 

“As a handler, we love our dogs, so we spend more time with these dogs a lot of times than we do our own families, so yeah they are a piece of equipment to the department they work for, but more importantly they are our partners. They’re like our children.” 

According to the Hendricks County Prosecutor’s Office, they have seen a 150 percent increase in overdose deaths since 2019. And last year, 84 percent of overdose deaths were because of fentanyl. 

Officials say they want to shed light on the fentanyl epidemic in hopes of reducing overdoses and saving lives. Those lives also include their K-9 officers, which are a huge investment for law enforcement, but also like family to their handlers.