When James noticed that his teenage daughter had taken to spending time with a new group of friends and that there was an unsavory odor in her room, he became suspicious.
The Kentucky father wondered if his 14-year-old daughter was using drugs, but he didn’t have any hard evidence to support his fears, he told the Courier-Journal.
So James — who asked that the newspaper not use his last name, to protect his daughter’s identity – did what a growing number of parents in the Louisville area are doing: He paid $99 to have a drug-sniffing dog search his home.
“I’m not a snooping parent,” he told the Courier-Journal. “I want my daughter to be able to trust me, but I gotta protect her.”
“I know girls can be sneaky and hide things in places I wouldn’t even think of,” he added.
After the specially trained dog found a tiny glass pipe containing marijuana hidden inside his daughter’s makeup stand, James confronted the teenager and she admitted the pipe was hers. He destroyed the pipe with a baseball bat and says the entire episode brought him closer to his daughter.
“I was so nervous,” James said. “What can occur from letting this stranger in my house with a drug dog? But it’s been nothing but positive.”
Since he opened the Last Chance K9 Service in September, company owner Michael Davis says his firm has searched more than 50 homes in the Louisville area.
In nine out of 10 homes, Davis told The Washington Post, his dogs have located drugs. The most common drug the drug-sniffing dogs find is heroin, Davis said, though his dogs have also turned up cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamines and barbiturates, sometimes elaborately hidden in homes and cars.
The idea of finding heroin in a 16-year-old’s bedroom may sound shocking, but there’s been a sharp increase in heroin use in “Kentuckiana,” the eight-county Louisville metropolitan area that sits on both sides of the Kentucky and Indiana border. In Jefferson County, whose seat is Louisville, there were 204 overdose deaths in 2014, up from 192 the year before, according to the Kentucky Office for Drug Control Policy.
Release the hounds
Davis said the region’s drug epidemic has created steady demand for his dogs. The firm is also hired to search businesses and other private clients that Davis declined to name for bombs, firearms and drugs. Phone calls began pouring in as soon as he put up billboards around the region, showing a German shepherd with a stick of dynamite in one nostril and a joint in the other.
“OUR DOGS FIND DRUGS!” the advertisement says.
“We had a lot of parents who said, ‘I don’t know what my child is doing, but I remember what I was doing at that age. Would you go through my child’s room just so I could have security?'” Davis told The Post. “We’ve done a lot of those homes and many came up with drugs and the parents were shocked.”
“Other times,” Davis added, “we didn’t find drugs and then we encouraged the parents to give their kids positive reinforcement.”
But Lawrence Balter, a professor of applied psychology at New York University and the author of multiple books about parenting, said parents may find it challenging to build positive relationships with their children if their kids feel like they’re under surveillance.
“It’s best to understand how widespread drug use is among teenagers,” Balter told The Post. “Teenagers will only just become more secretive if they feel like they’re being spied on. If parents act like police, I think kids just become more deceptive and sneaky.”
Balter said a drug dog might be a useful tool in extreme cases — when a teenager is on probation or on the verge of very serious trouble. Barring that, he said, it’s more productive to develop a relationship with your child where you can talk about drugs in a candid manner.
“They should not promote abusing substances and they should be open about discussing their children’s participation in those kinds of activities,” Balter said. “You should be an ally, not a military state.”
Davis said that for many families, assertive action is a better alternative than a young person winding up behind bars with a criminal record. If drugs are located in someone’s home, he offers to “scare teenagers straight” by facilitating a conversation between parents and teens, he said.
Some parents prefer to have their home searched when the child is at school, but others like to have Davis create a show of force for teenage eyes.
“The dog is extremely intimidating,” Davis said. “When the child sees that, it has a jaw-dropping effect. They think, ‘Oh wait, now there’s a company my mom or dad can call that brings a dog into this home anytime they think I may have drugs?’ Next time, they’ll think twice.”
Confiscated drugs are placed in a disposable bag and dropped off at police departments for disposal, he said. Parents also have the option of disposing of the illegal substances on their own.
Parents sign a contract that forbids the Last Chance K9 Service from sharing information about searches with anyone, including law enforcement.
He said some local police departments have been cooperative, but others haven’t and he’s been forced to leave drugs with parents. A law enforcement source told the Courier-Journal that he worries about how drugs will be disposed of if parents decide or are forced to keep drugs that Davis finds.
Davis said he believes police will come around as they grow more accustomed to working with him.
“We want community to know that we’re a tool for parents,” he said. “This is where we can defeat the war on drugs, right here at your kitchen table — instead of in a courtroom with a lawyer.”