By Kristen Williams  All photos by Kristen Williams

Marley searches for drug odors backstage at VVHS theater and gets rewarded with his favorite toy

On Sept. 14, Mesquite’s new K9 team graduated from training at the Utah Post Academy and reported for duty the following Monday. K9 Marley and his partner/handler/”Dad,” officer Justin Goodsell, have now been using their drug detecting skills at Virgin Valley High School for three weeks, and they seem to be settling in nicely.

They also work at the middle school together.

Marley’s training continues on the job. Goodsell, along with Casey Anderson and Minnett Santos, VVHS campus security, set up scenarios with hidden odors for Marley to detect around the school grounds. They train a minimum of six hours per week. Normal duties include running random drug sniffing checks of the desks, gym lockers, restrooms and even student backpacks, as well as general patrol around the inside and outside campus areas.

Marley searches for drug odors backstage at VVHS theater and gets rewarded with his favorite toy

Goodsell and Marley found each other at Pacific Coast K9 in Belmont, Washington, this summer. The MPD team was there to recruit a new drug dog and Marley stood out right away due to a sort of instant bond he and Goodsell felt. It came down to Marley and a handful of other dogs, but that bond along with some impressive natural skills and instincts sealed the deal.

Marley searches for drug odors backstage at VVHS theater and gets rewarded with his favorite toy

Goodsell said the first night in the hotel room, Marley bonded to him further and even showed some separation anxiety by sniffing under the door when Goodsell would leave the room. “It’s like he already knew I was his dad,” Goodsell said, smiling. The team brought Marley home to Mesquite and in July the pair headed up to the training academy in Utah. The training was about 10 hours a day, and often longer because of special evening sessions.

Today, Goodsell demonstrated some of their routines at VVHS. In the cluttered backstage area of the theater, in near pitch black darkness, Marley sniffed out the planted odors of meth and heroin in short

Marley searches for drug odors backstage at VVHS theater and gets rewarded with his favorite toy

order and was rewarded with his favorite toy – a squeaky stuffed duck.

Then, as they walked through the halls, students would greet and pet him along the way. Marley is a happy, friendly yellow Labrador, which makes a good fit with Goodsell, who is familiar to the students as the school resource officer, and seems to have a friendly rapport with them. One particular student really lit up when she saw Marley, and Goodsell said she has a similar reaction every time she sees him in his uniform instead of his standard collar.

Marley searches for drug odors backstage at VVHS theater and gets rewarded with his favorite toy

Then they demonstrated a locker check and Marley methodically checked each one before getting some more play time with the duck. Mesquite PD’s other drug dog, K9 Noro, is a Belgian Malinois.

Goodsell says the difference in the dogs’ work style is significant. Not because Noro’s been at it longer, but simply because of the breed and how they operate. Noro is a much faster worker than Marley, and would move swiftly along the lockers only stopping to indicate a find.

Officer Goodsell leads Marley on a locker search

Sometimes they work together when a situation requires a rapid resolution and they can either divide and conquer or take turns while one of them rests and cools off, as drug sniffing is tiring work for the dogs. Around 2.5-3 minutes of sniffing is equivalent to about a 1.5 mile run.

The dogs are so focused and determined, their body temperatures rise, their hearts beat faster, and their breathing is more intense. When they find something and indicate it to their handlers, they take deep, long breaths, their tails move faster and their eyes dilate. Goodsell says Marley’s eyes are red after an intense search and find. They have already had one successful search – not at the school, but in the city – in their young career together. Marley is trained to detect meth, heroin, cocaine, and marijuana.

Officer Goodsell leads Marley on a locker search

As Goodsell says, “We hope we never actually find something at the school.” He talked about how the students all knew what day Marley was returning from training and were expecting him. He hopes having a drug dog on campus will be a deterrent to students bringing substances in.

When the team goes home, Marley is treated like the family member he is, although he does sleep in a kennel unlike the family’s one year old Golden Doodle, Jersey. It’s a matter of keeping his focus and hunt drive high.

K9 Marley poses with his partner/handler/dad after demonstrating their skills

When he works, he’s all about the reward. But Marley gets family time around the house and seems to have a special connection with Goodsell’s daughter – and VVHS student – Tori. When he greets Tori he wiggles so much “his body looks like an ‘S’.” The family calls that signature move “swig swag.”

There are no plans for an official “swearing in” ceremony at MPD, but Marley participates in a lot of community events so when you see him, be sure to welcome the new recruit to Mesquite.