Md. company rents drug-sniffing dogs

Jill Rosen
The Baltimore Sun
Thursday, October 21, 2010; 1:06 PM

Underneath the mattress isn't going to cut it. Neither will tucking it behind the stack of "Twilight" books. Not even pushing it deep into the toe of a smelly gym shoe.

The dog will find it. And he'll know it's not oregano.

A new service in Maryland is promising parents peace of mind by allowing them to essentially rent a drug-sniffing dog, a highly trained canine that will come to their house and within seconds, detect even the tiniest whiff of narcotics. The program allows ordinary moms and dads access to a search tool typically reserved for law enforcement ¿ and typically aimed at suspected criminals.

Dogs Finding Drugs will, indeed, uncover teens' stashes. Whether those kids talk to their parents again remains to be seen.

Anne Wills, who runs the just-launched, Catonsville-based nonprofit, says parents are clamoring for the service and she expects business to "explode."

"I know that when my kids were growing up, every once in a while I'd have liked to know what they were doing," says Wills, who's having her own Labrador-mix, Heidi, trained to become a drug-detection dog. "The need is there. The desire is there."

Drug-sniffing is a fresh turn for Wills' organization, Dogs Finding Dogs, a nearly 3-year-old group that until now has used the skills of search dogs to find missing pets. Heidi and the other search dogs affiliated with the program have traveled all over the region, helping to reunite nearly 300 wayward dogs and cats with their frantic owners.

Besides targeting parents who suspect their children are dabbling in drugs, Dogs Finding Drugs is offering its services to companies and schools. Its dogs, which are all certified K-9s, can detect marijuana, heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines, as well as prescription drugs with trace amounts of those narcotics. The dogs can also uncover guns and explosives.

The rate is about $200 an hour ¿ more or less depending on the circumstances and scale of the search.

Michael Gimbel, the former "drug czar" for Baltimore County, is helping Wills promote the service, the first of its kind in the area, but one of a handful of similar programs that have popped up across the country in recent years. He considers it a way for parents to, as he puts it, protect their home.

"Bottom line is, parents need to use every resource available to protect their kids from drugs and their home," he says. "This is just another new and creative way to attack the problem."

The success seems to vary for other companies offering drug-sniffing dog services. In Arizona, Amy Halm started Desert Drug Dog earlier this year. She says business has been "hard going" but "growing." In the Twin Cities of Minnesota, John Roux started Metro Canine Detection Services in 2002. Schools fill out the bulk of his customer base ¿ he's got 25 schools as regular customers and expects that number to double within the year. In New Jersey, a company called Sniff Dogs that got a lot of fanfare when it launched two years ago still has a website, but its phone has been disconnected.

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