All hail Dozer, canine postal detective

Sacramento dogs tasked with sniffing out mail pests

This is an extended version of a story that ran in the August 4, 2016, issue.

A cluster of boxes sits in front of the best canine detective in the state. Dozer, a seven- or eight-year-old Labrador mix and former rescue, is one of 14 dogs in California tasked with finding pests that arrive in the mail, often in fruit shipments. If pests get in, they can wreak havoc on crops and the environment.

Dozer’s handler Jennifer Berger tells SN&R he boasts a nearly perfect success rate, tops in California. “He loves his job, and he is so good at it,” she said as Dozer restlessly eyed those boxes. “This is probably torturing him right now, just sitting here looking at it.”

She turned to him. “You want to go?”

The demo begins, and within 15 seconds, Dozer’s found his mark, ripping apart the box with devastating efficiency and theatrical flourish. He knows when he’s demonstrating for others, Berger explains. He’s a little more restrained when on-duty at FedEx, UPS or, most often, the USPS facility in West Sacramento.

Dozer will soon have a new counterpart. On May 24, the county board of supervisors authorized agricultural commissioner Juli Jensen to execute an agreement with the California Department of Food and Agriculture to receive up to $349,577.06 in reimbursement costs for its dog handler program in the 2016-17 fiscal year.

That money would allow the county to have two full-time dogs and handlers. Currently, the county relies on teams from Contra Costa County to ease the workload in West Sacramento for Dozer, who will also reach his mandatory retirement age next year and go live with Berger.

The department had a second handler but let him go at the beginning of June, weeks before the end of his 12-month probationary period.

“Not everybody’s cut out to do this,” said deputy agricultural commissioner Ramona Saunders.

Jensen said her department would “let the dust settle” before hiring a new handler and dog, who will each need 10 weeks of training at a USDA facility in Georgia. “We really need to get another dog team in there that’s capable to work at the post office.”