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Bomb-sniffing dog joins regional Transit Police

K9 Sem and his handler, Sgt. Matt Engen, will search for explosives on MAX, WES, TriMet platforms.

PMG PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - Sem, a 20-month-old purebred Belgian Malinois, poses for a photo during his first day on the job on Monday, May 20. There's a new cop walking the transit beat … on four legs.

Sem, a 20-month-old purebred Belgian Malinois, had his first day on the job patrolling the Rose Quarter Transit Center on Monday, May 20. Along for the ride was Sgt. Matt Engen, a 24-year veteran of the Portland Police Bureau who will serve as Sem's handler.

PMG PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - Sgt. Matt Engen joined the Transit Police division at Portland Police Bureau nine years ago. Working with his new partner, Sem, has been a lifelong long dream. "I'm a dog person," Engen said. "Getting to be a police officer as well as have a canine is a lifelong dream."

The duo became partners nine weeks ago in Texas at Joint Base San Antonio, where Sem was learning to sniff out explosives, not drugs. "He could care less about any meth or heroin or marijuana," Engen said. "That's not an odor he would even recognize."

Engen was named "Top Dog" for outstanding achievement after he and Sem graduated the course on May 14. Sem now lives at his trainer's home.

Their work will take them all over the metro region, searching for danger on TriMet buses, MAX and WES trains, transit stop platforms and when occasionally guarding visiting dignitaries. Sem also is certified for Transportation Security Administration duties.

While the exact number of bomb-sniffing canines working here is a closely kept secret, Sgt. Engen and Sem are replacing a previous dog and handler, who retired. Sem is a "high-drive" pooch who likes to work and is trained to obey Engen's commands.

But there's a catch. While Sem loves a good pat on the head, he can't be hugged and petted by riders and passersby. Even Engen's family has struggled to treat Sem as a working partner.

"He is a really friendly dog, and he's a well-behaved gentleman and people like to pet him," Engen said. "But for us, if he thinks every day is just to go out and get petted by the public, it would diminish his working ability and not make him as effective."

PMG PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - Sgt. Matt Engen and his K9 partner, Sem, patrol the Rose Quarter Transit Center on Monday, May 20.

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