NOVATO, CA -- One of the local narcotics-trained police dogs got a stiff whiff of the ganga when his handler made a traffic stop Saturday night on Highway 101. The result? Recovery of three pounds of marijuana wrapped as Christmas gifts and worth about $10,000, according to Novato police.
Metz, a Belgian malinois breed, detected the drugs after officer Jeff Ames pulled over a car at 9:51 p.m. near the Alameda del Prado exit on 101, according to Lt. Oliver Collins. Ames smelled pot as soon as he contacted the driver, Hubert Herman Miller, 39 of San Jose, who had been pulled over under suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, Collins said.
Ames called on Metz to search the vehicle, and the dog zeroed in on two large boxes wrapped in Christmas wrapping paper. Ames found more than three pounds of processed marijuana in the packages.
Miller, who works in auto sales, was arrested at 11:07 p.m. and booked at Marin County Jail. He faces felony charges of transportation and possession of marijuana for the purposes of sale.
Novato police have three narcotics-trained police dogs — Metz, Lex and Ingo. They are often deployed during traffic stops and searches when drugs are suspected.
The department expanded its canine force from two dogs and handlers to three in August 2011 after a fundraising campaign. The office of Marin County Supervisor Judy Arnold donated $7,000 to the cause and a grassroots group called Pennies or Police Dogs raised about $7,000, prompting then-chief Joseph Kreins to approve the purchase of a third dog. Since then, new Chief Jim Berg sent the dogs and handlers through narcotics training at $3,800 per team thanks to Pennies for Police Dogs and other donors.
Belgian malinois are slightly smaller than German shepherds. Berg said the dogs, which cost $8,200 each, are preferred because of advantages in agility, durability and overall health reasons. A typical police dog works about six years before retiring from duty.
The canine program was a target of city budget cuts in 2009, but the Novato City Council opted to trim costs elsewhere and keep the dogs, who today are used in searches all over Marin County and occasionally Sonoma County.
"Novato Police Department is ever vigilant in removing dangerous drugs from our city streets and continues to use police canines to make the community safer," Collins said in a release.