Even though Ozner essentially is here to find contraband, the 3-year-old Belgian Malinois sniffs his way through Perris High School in celebrity-like fashion.
Whether it’s the high school students, support staff or teachers, everyone makes sure to give him a good pet before he leaves the classroom.
Ozner sure knows how to light up a room.
And all he asks for in return is his tattered jute toy.
“I wish I had his nose as a drug dog as a patrol officer on the streets,” says his handler, Derek Link, a patrol officer at the Garden Grove Police Department and an employee at Inland Valley K-9 Detection Specialists.
Link’s work with Ozner finding narcotics for school districts and other related groups in Riverside is what he does on his days off from the GGPD.
But he’s no stranger to K9 police work.
He became a K9 agitator (the person who wears a bite suit) while working as an officer for the Fountain Valley Police Department in 2002. In 2006, he got his own K9 through the agency, a Malinois named Renzo (Ozner spelled backwards).
“We love their temperament, their work ethic,” Link says of the breed.
When not actively engaged in a narcotics search – which generally consists of Link taking him to various classrooms and guiding Ozner along desks and past backpacks – the young dog is peacefully sitting or lying down near Link.
During the searches, students are asked to vacate the classrooms and Link, Rick Towne (owner and founder of Inland Valley K-9 Detection Specialists) and a school representative – in this case the principal – watch Ozner do his thing.
Ozner has what is called a passive alert – sitting or standing at the source of the scent, and pointing his nose toward it. In the classrooms searched on this particular day (April 20 – also referred to as 420, and known as a celebratory day in cannabis-consuming circles), Ozner alerted to several backpacks.
Each school handles the searches a little differently, according to Towne.
At this particular school, the principal picks up the alerted backpacks and takes them back to administration for a human search. At no time do the specialists search the backpacks themselves – Ozner’s scenting skills find the source and then administrators take it from there.
Not all alerts lead to a direct drug find because Ozner can detect the slightest remains of a narcotic.
For example, at Perris High School, the backpacks he alerted to contained a lighter, a medical marijuana prescription and a wrapper that at one point contained marijuana. Disciplinary action for the students is left to each school and administration.
“You did great,” Link tells Ozner on his way out of a classroom.
As Ozner walks in and out of classrooms, he’s greeted with many students who pet him and the occasional “he’s cute.”
“Everyone loves a dog,” says Link.
Link started working two years ago for Towne’s company after coming across an online ad seeking an experienced K9 handler. Link’s dog Renzo, sadly, passed away in 2010 of a blood clot and the handler was itching to have another working dog.
Towne purchased Ozner, who had been about 40 percent trained as a police dog. Because officials wanted a dog solely for nose work rather than apprehension, they focused the rest of his training on specific narcotics, including methamphetamine, pharmaceuticals, etc.
Ozner now is also being trained in handgun detection.
During their work together, Ozner has demonstrated himself to be quite the proactive narcotics dog. Link recalled the time early on when they were out in a field so Ozner could stretch his legs after a car ride. Ozner suddenly appeared to be working the “scent cone” sniffing for something.
“He found an empty little bindle of meth out in the field,” says Link. “It’s amazing what these dogs will do.”
There also was the day last year when the two were walking in through Perris High School’s waiting area for the principal and vice principal’s offices and Ozner anxiously started sniffing around one of the plastic chairs.
“We flip the chair upside down … there was a big-old bag of marijuana stashed under the seat,” Link says.
And Ozner sometimes even elicits confessions out of the students – like the time he alerted on a student. School administrators found 28 marijuana baggies on him. Link spoke to the student and found out he was a dealer.
As he talked to the boy, “the kid was just petting Ozner,” Link says.
Link is thankful for the work he’s able to do with Ozner and to the Garden Grove PD for allowing him to do it on his days off. When he lateraled over this year from the Westminster Police Department, he informed the GGPD about his part-time work and he was encouraged to continue doing it.
“I’m so grateful for the Garden Grove Police Department, that they’re allowing me to do this,” he says.
Link’s wife and sons are happy to have a dog back in the house, and Ozner is a central part of the family now – going on road trips with the family as well as “tucking in” Link’s sons every night. The dog jumps on one boy’s bed (the only time he’s allowed on the furniture) and lies there waiting for him to go to sleep before heading to the other boy’s room.
Link’s not joking when he describes the 80-pound dog as a “lap dog.” Ozner randomly jumps up on Link, placing his paw on one of his shoulders in a kind of embrace while licking the officer’s face.
A dog lover all his life – his parents bred yellow Labrador Retrievers, and he had a Great Dane and yellow Lab growing up – Link is living the dream with two jobs he loves.
“I didn’t realize I had a hole in my heart until I brought him [home and he filled it],” he says. “I’m very, very lucky.”