Her name is Lola, and she’s no showgirl.
As the Mashpee Police Department continues to grapple with the drug addiction and related crime issues the town and the region are facing, it has deployed the services of a drug-sniffing canine—and with impressive results.
Lola, a petite yellow Labrador retriever, joined the force more than four years ago, after she was seized by United States Drug Enforcement Administration officials during a narcotics arrest in southeastern Massachusetts. She was just 8 months old.
“The DEA gave the dog to Mashpee, because they knew we were starting a canine unit. Other than the sheriff’s department, there were very few narcotics dogs in the region at the time,” Officer Michael A. Assad, Lola’s human partner and trainer, said.
While the newly created position of K-9 officer was posted internally for any Mashpee police officers who wanted to apply, it was Officer Assad, who had always had an interest in working with a police dog, who received the assignment.
For Officer Assad, being a K-9 officer has become a family tradition: his father-in-law, Barnstable County Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant Barney Murphy, has been a K-9 handler since 1999.
Before Lola could hit the street to sniff out and apprehend drug dealers and users, she had to undergo an extensive 500-hour training academy with Officer Assad at Bridgewater State Hospital. At the academy, Lola was trained to identify drugs by odor, find cadavers, and become a search-and-rescue dog.
But locating illegal drugs became her specialty.
Earlier this week, Officer Assad described the intense training he went through with Lola.
“A bottle containing a mixture of drugs was put in a hole between boards, and then Lola is walked up and down the boards until she comes to the hole and associated the odor. Once she finds the bottle, she received a snack,” he said, adding that eventually the drugs were separated—heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines, for example—until she began to identify the odor of each drug, of course, always receiving that coveted snack.
“Lola is just another tool to fight the war on narcotics,” Officer Assad said.
Once Lola mastered the identification of several illegal drugs at the academy, she was tested by Officer Assad in more real-world scenarios, such as finding hidden drugs in cars and buildings. Eventually, Lola began to show telltale signs, such as shaking and sniffing, that Officer Assad said became her way of telling him to pay attention to what had made her excited.
“A dog has no reason to lie. She thinks, ‘If I find these drugs, I’ll get some lunch’,” Officer Assad said, noting that Lola is a passive narcotics search dog that does not bark, scratch, or bite.
When not on duty, Lola lives with Officer Assad and his family in Mashpee and is described as a perfect family pet and “51-pound lap dog,” but still, she needs to be trained continuously. Officer Assad said that even at home she does not have a food bowl, but needs to find hidden drugs before she is fed.
Mashpee Police Captain Scott W. Carline has high praise for Officer Assad and Lola. “Through Mike’s dedication and commitment he has raised the level of professionalism in our canine program to the point where we are respected as one of the strongest canine units in southeastern Massachusetts. Mike makes the program,” he said.
Officer Assad also said that the Mashpee K-9 project would not have been such a success without the support of Chief Rodney C. Collins or Captain Carline.
Recruited By Street Crimes Unit
Lola’s impressive track record of locating illicit drugs, resulting in many arrests and the seizure of a significant amount of cash, caught the attention of the Barnstable Street Crimes Unit earlier this year.
In February of this year, Mashpee joined the SCU, a multi-jurisdictional effort to identify and curtail specific problems relating to violence, comprising the Barnstable Police Department, members of the Massachusetts State Police, Barnstable County Sheriff’s Department, and the Yarmouth Police Department. At that time, Officer Assad and Lola began reporting to duty as full-time members of the SCU.
Captain Carline, though, emphasizes that the partnership between the Mashpee Police Department and the SCU is reciprocal in nature, and that Lola’s first priority is to detect drugs and apprehend criminals in Mashpee.
“Lola is just another tool to fight the war on narcotics,” Officer Assad said, adding that she also acts as a deterrent for drug dealers and the like to stay away from Mashpee.
There will be a chance to meet Lola and Officer Assad in person when they will be conducting a K-9 patrol demonstration at 1 PM on Sunday at the Mashpee Dog Park’s “Dog Days of Summer” fundraiser at the Village Green at Mashpee Commons.