- Associated Press - Friday, July 25, 2014

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - The Montana Highway Patrol is turning to some four-legged, sensitive-nosed help in its effort to curb drug trafficking along interstates 90 and 94.

The state has added six K-9 narcotics units and a seventh dog that is trained to detect explosives. Attorney General Tim Fox introduced the officers and their dogs at Riverfront Park in Billings on Thursday.

“The Highway Patrol’s first-ever K-9 units are an important step forward in our ongoing efforts to combat the flow of illegal drugs in and through Montana,” Fox said. “In the short time they’ve been in service, these highly trained K-9 units have already accomplished great things and demonstrated their significant value.”

Drug trafficking is a growing problem in Montana, especially in and around the Bakken area, Fox said.

The dogs were bred in Europe for the sole purpose of finding narcotics or explosives, and they’re rewarded by getting to play with a toy, officers said.

“Their whole goal in life is to find dope in a car,” said Montana Highway Patrol Maj. J.V. Moody, commander of the K-9 team.

The state used drug forfeiture money and grant money from the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program to buy and train the dogs. The dogs cost $6,500 each, and the seven new patrol vehicles to accommodate the dogs cost $25,000 each.

The dogs - mostly German and Belgian shepherds - were trained in Big Timber in May and began working in mid-June after their handlers also received some training. The dogs live with their assigned officers.

“We’re excited to have these new teams in service,” Col. Tom Butler, chief of the Highway Patrol, said.

The so-called “executive protection” dog will be used to screen venues prior to Gov. Steve Bullock’s arrival and occasionally for public events held at the governor’s mansion. The dog also will be called in for mutual aid in case of bomb threats at schools or other public events.

“He’s going to be a busy guy,” Moody said.

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