The West Penn Police Department has a unique four-legged weapon in its crime fighting arsenal.

Argus, who has been the department's search and rescue dog since 2007, is used for sniffing out drugs as well as search and rescue operations. Owned by the township and cared for by officer Melissa Boyer, who also serves as Argus's duty partner, handler and trainer, the male golden retriever is admired by fellow officers in the department for his energy and training.

"Our police department treats Argus as a fellow officer," said Boyer, describing the close connection between the department and Argus. "This is a game to him. You can tell he really enjoys it."

The department owns a specially fitted police vehicle that is equipped to keep Argus safe and comfortable while officers do their rounds.

Other police canines do not have Argus's keen sense of smell, as he is trained to sense four types of narcotics: heroin, methamphetamine, marijuana and cocaine. Most police dogs are trained to sense only one or two specific compounds.

"He came in top dog in various competitions," said Boyer. "Even if you hide the smell with cologne or other strong odors, Argus will still find what he is looking for. He doesn't even have to get inside a vehicle to detect the drugs inside it. When Argus senses a specific compound, he will give me passive alert signals that involve him stopping, looking up and then get excited."

Police Chief Brian Johnson said, "We hooked up with Consummate K-9 Training out of Andreas to provide us with a well trained canine. Argus, who came from Brazil, was shipped to us in April 2007. Boyer worked and trained with Argus for five more months before he was put on the street."

Boyer and Argus even received a narcotics detection certification from the Drug Enforcement Administration and Police K-9 Association.

Golden retriever's intelligence and friendly, eager-to-please demeanor give them the ability to be versatile and play a variety of roles, including guide dog for the blind, hearing dog for deaf people, hunting dog, illegal drug detector, and search and rescue participant. Because of their loyal and gentle temperament, golden retrievers are also popular family pets.

Officers said that Argus has taken part in numerous tasks, ranging from a search for a missing body in the mountains to sniffing for hidden drugs in a vehicle.

Argus's duties at home consist of a well-deserved rest and relaxation.

Johnson pointed out that under Pennsylvania's civil code, Argus is considered a uniformed officer and charges are similar if he is hurt or killed. Any person who violates any of the provisions of this subsection commits a felony of the third degree."

"Argus, badge number 14, has become a cherished asset and strong staple in our department's fight against crime," Boyer said.