LEBANON, Pa. (AP) – As Hope Rescue Mission in Reading was gearing up to provide winter shelter for the homeless, it knew it had to address drug sharing that sometimes goes on within its walls.
The rescue mission could have called police, but its leadership didn’t want to create a pipeline from the shelter to prison.
Enter Fred Nell who runs a business, featuring his dog Sadie. Nell said he believes his business is the only one of its kind in Pennsylvania.
By randomly drug testing shelter residents, Sadie has sent a message that drugs won’t be tolerated – and the amount of drugs at the Code Blue winter shelter has drastically decreased, pastor and program director Steve Olivo said.
Sadie used to alert regularly during drug sweeps the shelter, but now rarely has occasion to do so.
By increasing the likelihood that drug users will be caught, it also helps people struggling with addiction make better decisions, Nell said.
“In the beginning, I didn’t like you. I just thought you were bad news, you were out to get me,” one 18-year-old at the shelter told Nell. But now, “every time I talk to you, I know you’re here to help me get through my recovery with narcotics.”
Drug Search Team and Next Day Outreach isn’t Nell’s first innovative business involving his pets – he’s also known as Mr. Scoop for his dog waste-removal company “inspired” by his former dog, Teddy.
After Teddy died, he adopted Sadie, a rescue Labrador/German Shepherd mix that he soon discovered has a special talent. Sadie alerts to illegal narcotics, fueling a business that performs drug searches at organizations like the rescue mission, drug rehabilitation centers and even private homes.
“It’s really not anything out of the ordinary to get a call from someone you’d least expect,” he said.
While police and some large security firms employ drug-sniffing dogs, Nell said he isn’t aware of any other small private business like his in Pennsylvania. He does 25-30 searches per month, and business is booming so much that Nell is considering training a second dog to keep pace with demand.
Sadie alerts to drugs, at which point Nell’s client – not Nell himself – conducts a search of the person or bag about which Sadie alerted. The people being tested have typically signed paperwork saying they consent to a search.
As a result, the Hope Rescue Mission has been able to develop a drug-free environment to help struggling community members get back on their feet.
“It worked tremendously. You never beat it completely, but we have it under control right now,” Olivo said. “They’re not tempted every minute by a guy saying, ‘I’ve got this, I’ve got that, and if you want some, I’ve got it.’”
Certified to sniff
Perhaps surprisingly, private drug-sniffing dogs are a largely unregulated profession in Pennsylvania.
There is no training or certification in Pennsylvania for private vendors with drug-sniffing dogs, according to state police spokesman Ryan Sarkowski. A Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs spokeswoman was not aware of any regulations. Even nationally, the industry standards are “loosy-goosey,” said Terry Ulrich of the National Narcotic Detector Dog Association, which provides what he considers one of the best certifications.
Still, Tom Gross, executive director of the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association, said you would probably want to ensure a dog and dog-handler have some certification and have met some standard.
“In my own experience, I’ve seen drug-detection dogs that were terrible,” he said.
Nell said he never had a narcotics job before and does not have a law enforcement background. However, Sadie and Nell were certified in Missouri by Gary LaFollette, who owns the LaFollette K-9 Training Center, he said. In order to be certified, a dog must successfully find cocaine and another narcotic such as heroin within a time limit and avoid any false positives, according to LaFollette’s website.
Nell also has commercial liability and health insurance policies for Sadie, he said.
For the most part, organizations who avail themselves of Nell’s services will pay for it. Businesses have to pay a minimum of $150 for a drug search from Sadie and Nell, more if they have a lengthy commute. But he’s willing to negotiate costs with people who find their family members wrapped up in the opioid epidemic and don’t know where to turn.
“You never say no to someone who can’t afford it, because then you’re doing it for the wrong reasons,” he said. “Knowing the opioid crisis right now, and how bad it is, I’m here to help people and not to make it difficult on them.”
“We’re not trying to get you in trouble, we’re trying to get you to the next day of recovery,” he said.
Information from: Lebanon Daily News, http://www.ldnews.com