PRESQUE ISLE — A handsome golden retriever with a dynamite nose for gunpowder and eight other types of explosives is working in Aroostook County for the Maine State Police.
Five-year-old Barkley, handled by Trooper Shawn Whalen of Mapleton, is the first search dog of its type in northern Maine. Barkley can detect several types of materials used in making bombs, whether they are hidden in a filing cabinet, desk or knapsack.
Barkley and Whalen are one of only two such teams in the state, Whalen said Tuesday. The other team works in the Portland area.
Whalen and his canine graduated last week from a two-month training course in New Gloucester where the dog learned how to find the different types of explosives.
While there are two police dogs in the County, Barkley is the only canine trained to sniff out bomb ingredients.
“Explosives have a scent because it’s chemical,” Whalen said. “The dog is more sensitive to smells such as this.”
Although northern Maine doesn’t have the same number of bomb threats to schools or problems at airports experienced in more populated centers, those problems could be on the way, Whalen said.
“It’s a trickle effect,” the trooper said. “It’s going south to north.”
Whalen, a member of the state police bomb squad, raised Barkley from a puppy. When state police officials signaled the need for such a dog in central and northern sections of the state, Whalen offered his dog for duty.
During a demonstration Tuesday of the dog’s abilities, black powder was hidden in a filing cabinet. On a leash, Barkley circled the room sniffing at every container and corner. The dog came to the filing cabinet and sniffed around its corners and handles.
With a sharp bark, Barkley settled on his haunches and waited for his handler to confirm the dog had found the explosive.
As a reward for his successful search, Whalen threw a tennis ball for the dog to retrieve and praised the animal abundantly.
“His find is passive,” Whalen said. “He sits and that’s it.”
The canine’s success was repeated when a similar explosive substance was hidden in a canvas bag.
In addition to Aroostook County, Whalen said the team plans to respond to calls in Washington County and in central Maine, where a dog has not been trained.