By Alan Sorensen
Pete stuck his nose into three Havre schools for the first time Wednesday and didn't find a single drug or weapon.
Pete, an 8-year-old golden retriever, and handler Tanya Godfrey made searches of Havre High School, Havre Middle School and SUNS, the alternative high school at Robins Building.
Superintendent Kirk Miller was along during the searches with the pair from Interquest Detection Canines of Montana. Godfrey brought Pete to Havre in late August and explained the search procedure to students, parents and community members.
"On Nov. 10, 1999, there was no illegal contraband in the high school, middle school or alternative school and there were no weapons in the environment," Miller said. "I see that as being very positive news."
Wednesday's searches did turn up a few of what Dr. Miller called "alerts," though.
"They turned up with seven alerts throughout the district in those three schools," Miller said. "Three at the high school, two at middle school and two at the alternative high school, and there was no illegal contraband."
Godfrey explained during her earlier visit that Pete would stop and single out lockers which emanated odors from drugs, alcohol or gun powder. Those hits, as she called them, frequently resulted from residual odors that got on clothing from a variety of sources.
Now that it's hunting season, for example, it's entirely likely that a student wore the same coat to school that he wore hunting or target practicing. The residue left from firing a gun would attract Pete's attention the same way the smell of a live round would. Another example discussed at the public meetings in August included alcohol spilled on a student's clothing by a parent.
"Certainly there's no discipline that's implemented when it's just a residual odor that's involved," Miller said, "because there's no physical evidence."
Once the dog alerts his handler and school officials to a particular locker, that locker is opened and searched. Even if nothing is found, school officials said they would still send a letter to the student's parents alerting them to the hit.
"You know," Miller said, "the use of canine searches in the school environment as outlined by the trustees to work as a deterrent to students as well as to work toward a safe environment has been implemented."
The combined time for the searches was less than 3 hours, according to Miller. The high school search took about 1 hour, the middle school search was over in about 1 hour, and the alternative school search took 30 minutes or so, he said.
Miller said he hoped that providing the public with the results of the searches would "help people feel assured."
Tanya and Pete are contracted to visit the Havre schools one or two more times this school year. The visits are unannounced and can happen anytime of day or night.