Animal sniffers: Malinois dog Misty and police superintendent Hendrik Wannagat are a well-coordinated team.
Cell phone on the nose
For Malinois dog Misty, it's a big game when she finds smartphones, hard drives or SIM cards. Then she gets her bite, and the perpetrators often get a few years in prison.
Streife editorial team

Sometimes even the best sleuthing doesn't help, you need a super nose. For example, when you want to put a cell phone gang behind bars, like in Bielefeld.

For days, the police there had been observing thieves who were stealing high-value smartphones. Finally - access! The thieves were to be caught red-handed. Four or five cell phones would have been enough. But then the disappointment: no smartphones to be found. The investigators searched the suspects' pockets: empty. The getaway car: empty. They tore out the interior paneling of the Ford sedan: nothing. Last hope: a dog that can sniff out data carriers. The phone rang at the police dog squadron in Essen. A short time later, police superintendent Hendrik Wannagat (40) and his Belgian shepherd Misty were on their way to East Westphalia.

On arrival in Bielefeld, Misty jumped into the Ford. "Sense!" The back seat seemed suspicious. "Sense!" A dog is able to inhale up to 300 particles per minute onto its mucous membrane. It has around 200 million olfactory cells. By comparison, humans only have around 5 million. Misty's snout burrowed into the crack of an armrest. Then she lay down. "We call this freezing," explains dog handler Wannagat. Misty had found something.

The thieves had pushed the smartphones deep into the seat covers. Because the rubbers were so tight, the officers couldn't find them. There was high praise: "Super job." Then Misty got her bite sausage, because playing is a reward for her.

Golden-brown fur, brown eyes, tail wagging happily. A few weeks later at a dog training ground in Mülheim an der Ruhr, the sniffer on four paws is in high spirits. She is one of over 300 police dogs on duty in North Rhine-Westphalia: Finding narcotics, explosives or banknotes, tracking down people, catching burglars. Misty's specialty is data carriers. She filters out a very special scent from millions of odors: that of DVDs, hard drives, memory cards, USB sticks and smartphones. She even detects tiny SIM cards.

Wannagat and Misty don't just work together. They also live together, go to work together, go on vacation together and go for a walk together three times a day. And when Misty retires at some point, she will also spend her retirement together with her master - outside in the countryside, with a blanket in the house and a kennel in the garden. But it will be a while before then. Misty is only six years old, so she's in her prime.

Hendrik Wannagat grew up with four-legged friends. After graduating from high school, he joined the police force and followed the normal career path - studies, guard duty, police dog squad. He sometimes accompanied the dog handlers on late shifts and night shifts. Wouldn't that be something for him too? Misty has now been accompanying him for five years.

"Sit." She only listens to his commands. "Clear rules are important," says Wannagat. For example, when eating. If a piece of sausage falls under the table, Misty doesn't even look up. That wasn't always the case. "No, Misty," she was told and sent back to the blanket. Friendly but firm.

Belgian shepherds are descended from herding dogs, want to please, are docile and intelligent. Misty has understood. Meat sausage is taboo. But her bite sausage is great. She played a special role in her training.

There are currently 15 data storage sniffer dogs in North Rhine-Westphalia. The talented noses were trained back in 2019 - shortly after the perpetrator of abuse Andreas V. was arrested in Lügde. Back then, a data storage sniffer dog from Saxony discovered a hidden USB stick in a pillow. An important piece of evidence. Since then, four-legged friends have often been deployed when homes are searched and child abuse is suspected.

Misty has been on more than 40 missions and has already felt her way through junk rooms, balanced over overturned cupboards and jumped onto tables to find possible hiding places in ceiling lamps. "Their motivation is their favorite toy, their bite sausage," says Wannagat. They get them after their work is done. Of course, it was also given immediately when she found a USB stick in a full toolbox or the folder of home-burned DVDs that the perpetrator had shoved behind a freezer in the basement.

Inspiration, concentration, intelligence, loyalty: all this, combined with her sensitive nose, makes Misty a talented sniffer dog. She was initially trained as a guard dog at the LAFP in Schloß Holte-Stukenbrock and in the Essen police dog squadron. Some dogs react nervously to crowds of people or flinch at loud noises. "Misty is very environmentally aware," says Wannagat. That's why she was invited to train as a data storage detection dog and was conditioned to smell storage media. Great fun for her.

Back at the dog training ground. Misty sleeps in her dog crate in the company car. But that doesn't mean she's not alert, on the contrary. Wannagat knows that as focused and attentive as she is when searching for data carriers, she also puts her skills to good use in her day-to-day work.

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Translated with DeepL.com (pro version)
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