A 3½-year-old black Lab named DeeDee trots down a long hall of high school lockers, head down, nose skimming the lockers’ lower vents. Suddenly she lunges across the hall, pulling her handler with her, to one particular locker that she sniffs and licks, then sits in front of.
“It’s all a game to her,” said Kim Rinzema Heys ’00, DeeDee’s handler and vice president of Interquest Detection Canines of Michigan.
A very serious game.
Heys tosses a rope chew toy to DeeDee and then opens the locker. A sealed, brown envelope is wedged in a seam of the locker. Inside the envelope is a cotton ball that’s been rubbed in marijuana. Heys planted the marijuana-scented cotton in the locker, and in another, a small bottle of whiskey. This time she and DeeDee are practicing. The next time DeeDee plays her game and makes such a find there will be real consequences for someone.
DeeDee’s nose — approximately 700 times more sensitive than a human nose and specially trained to find illicit drugs, alcohol, prescription and over-the-counter medications, and firearms — impresses school officials. Forty districts encompassing some 70 campuses have contracted with Heys and the Michigan franchise of Interquest for the 2005-06 school year. Headquartered in Houston, Texas, the company visits 5,000 campuses nationwide.
Heys stresses that Interquest’s primary service is not to find illicit substances, but to prevent their being brought to a campus in the first place. In September, at an assembly in each school that’s contracted with her, Heys shows students what her dog can do. When DeeDee finds an unopened can of beer or a bullet wrapped in plastic in a backpack, kids are amazed.
During the school year Heys and DeeDee pay unannounced visits to the schools, searching not only lockers, but also parking lots, common areas and, sometimes, classrooms. They average five to 10 “alerts” on each visit, though that might include Tylenol in a locker or a used rifle shell in a hunter’s truck. Usually one or two of the alerts merit disciplinary action.
Heys’ job is done once she turns the illicit substance over to school or law enforcement officials. Still, she often has the opportunity to interact with students, and it’s here that she takes another kind of pride in her work.
“I see a lot of different authority styles deal with these kids. I like to pride myself on treating them with respect, the way Jesus would.”
School administrators who have welcomed Interquest dogs testify to a decline in the presence of “contraband” in their schools. Besides the fact that she’s helped make a school safer for students, Heys sees herself having a role in helping children make healthy changes.
“Most schools offer drug rehabilitation programs. Kids aren’t very happy with me when I find whatever they’ve got, but I know that the sooner they’re caught, the more likely it is they’ll be helped. And every once in a while I’ll hear directly from a kid: ‘You catching me was the best thing in my life.’”
To learn more about Interquest Detection Canines, visit its Web site at www.interquestk9.com.
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