By Alan Sorensen
Pete, the drug-busting search dog that will be checking school lockers in Havre this year, is really a pussy cat.
Thats what his handler Tanya Godfrey successfully demonstrated to the 50 or so parents and interested community members who showed up for a public demonstration at Havre High Monday night.
Im not going to turn him loose and say Sic em! Godfrey said.
Actually, the 8-year-old golden retriever was about as sedate as an animal could be and still be breathing.
The dogs job in Havre will be to walk up and down the halls sniffing lockers for illegal drugs, prescription drugs, alcohol, and explosives. The dog can detect flash powder, black powder and gun powder. It is not trained to stop for tobacco products or liquid medications.
When the dog detects an odor consistent with any of the suspect substances it simply stops moving. Godfrey gave a demonstration in which Pete found a half-full airline-size bottle of tequila and refused to budge as she continued moving. The audience got a chuckle when the leash went taut and Godfrey knew Pete had made the hit.
Godfrey said that when she gives school assemblies, as she was scheduled to do this morning at Havre High and this afternoon at the middle school, students tend to mob the dog with no ill effects. Petes passive.
She sometimes allows students from the audience to handle Pete during the mock search to show how easily he works.
Godfrey said her company, Interquest Detection Canines of Montana, uses golden retrievers and Labrador retrievers because they are bred to hunt and retrieve and are nonaggressive animals.
The company, based in Laurel and headquartered in Texas, has 60 offices throughout the United States and has been in the business for 22 years.
Godfrey has worked with Pete for about 7 years, but is starting to work a young yellow Lab named Dudley into the routine because Pete is set to retire at the end of this year.
Godfrey said searches of schools the size of Havre High and Havre Middle schools should take about an hour, depending on the number of hits the dog makes.
Once the dog targets a locker, Godfrey notes the number and then moves on to the next locker. The dog can sniff low and high and has never, to Godfreys knowledge, been fooled by attempts to mask the smell of contraband. Pete once found a baggy of marijuana stuffed into another bag that was filled with a strong-smelling cologne.
Pete can also hit on lockers where substances have been stored but have since been moved. Depending on the substance, Godfrey said, the residual odors can hang around between 30 to 90 days.
At the end of the search, Godfrey speaks individually with each student whose locker was identified by Pete. There is then a locker search. If no contraband is found, the school principal will send a letter to the parents and try to call the parents to discuss the hit.
If contraband is found, the police are called and the student is disciplined. For a first-time drug offense, it could mean a 5-day out-of-school suspension, and a 10-day OSS for a second offense. A third offense would draw an expulsion, HHS Principal Jim Donovan said.
If a student wants to challenge the OSS on suspicion of drug use, he can ask for a hair follicle test. He or his parents would be asked to put up the $60 cost of the test in advance, and if the test proved negative, the money would be returned. The test would be carried out by Psychemedics Corporation of California, Donovan said, with the results available in about three days.
School policy is stricter for possession of weapons, he said.
It will be a learning process for us , Donovan said. If the kid uses, there should be some possibility for remediation in there. If the student opts for treatment , Im authorized to give up to two days off the five-day suspension.
Donovan said the searches are intended more as a deterrent to illicit drug use and a means of complying with the safe-schools program than as a tool to catch wrong-doers.
The canine searches are contracted as an unspecified number of random, unannounced events. Superintendent Kirk Miller said Havre has contracted for between three and five searches at HMS and HHS during the 1999-00 school year.
Godfrey assured parents that there is almost no chance that another student could plant contraband in their childrens lockers because of the randomness of her searches.
Godfrey said Pete can do searches of parking lots, school buses, and even luggage of kids heading out for field trips, games and tournaments. It takes him about 10 minutes to check 200 bags, she said.
School administrator Karla Wohlwend also took a few minutes to explain the changes to the school districts student medication policy. The policy is the same now for students in kindergarten as it is for seniors in high school.
Laura Malisani was on hand to explain the drug awareness, tobacco education, and tobacco awareness programs available in the schools through the HELP Committee.
Anyone who missed the hour-long presentation at HHS last night is encouraged to see the show at 7 p.m. today at HMS.