Thursday, January 22, 2004

Whitney White, owner of Interquest Detection Canines of Hawaii, and drug-detection dog Custer go over some lockers in a demonstration.

Drug dog to get whiff
of Saint Louis School

Hidden contraband will
not be able to hide
from Custer’s snout

A dog trained to sniff out alcohol and drugs will soon begin making the rounds at Saint Louis School, the second school in Hawaii to sign up for the service.

"The kids seemed very receptive to it," said Whitney White, owner of Interquest Detection Canines of Hawaii, who introduced her golden retriever, Custer, at a school assembly this week. "They were fascinated by the way the dog worked."

Custer showed off by sniffing piles of backpacks, and when he found the one with beer cans planted inside, students clapped and cheered. School officials see the program as a preventive measure and said they will seek help for students caught with contraband rather than punish them.

"The canine detection program will help us achieve our Marianist mission," said the Rev. Allen DeLong, president of Saint Louis School. "If some of our students are in need of direction, we will be able to provide the necessary aid and guidance."

The Academy of the Pacific, a small private school in Alewa, signed up for Custer's services last summer, the first school in Hawaii to deploy a drug-sniffing dog. So far this school year, the dog has made one find at the 150-student school -- a bit of marijuana in a student's car, according to Dorothy Douthit, head of school.

"It was a tiny little shred of marijuana in a tiny little plastic bag that the dog could smell from the outside of the car," she said. "That young man was expelled. He admitted it."

The dog makes unannounced visits twice a month to the campus, sniffing cars, lockers and backpacks for alcohol, illicit drugs or firearms. The students, in grades six through 12, leave the classroom while the dog does its work.

Douthit said she was "thrilled" with the program, which sends an anti-drug message in a friendly package, since Custer "looks like everyone's pet."

"There's almost no drug talk anymore, even when they think no one's listening," she said. "There's far less stealing on campus."

Using dogs is seen as less invasive than forcing students to submit to random drug testing. A proposal to test public school students for drugs fell flat at the Legislature last year because of questions over privacy rights and whether it would be cost-effective.

White, who lives on Maui, said she has made presentations to several other private schools and the state Department of Education but has not heard back.

"This is such a totally new concept to the state of Hawaii that it's just going to take time to educate people," said White, who acquired the Interquest franchise for the state last year.

Saint Louis officials said they are trying to ward off problems on campus, rather than reacting to them. If the dog turns up anything, administrators will question the student and offer help, calling in parents if necessary, said school spokeswoman Rebecca Fernandes. The school serves 760 boys in grades five through 12 on its Kaimuki campus.

"We just want to be proactive," Fernandes said. "We're really worried about this whole 'ice' epidemic, which will affect our students as well."

Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, a Saint Louis alumnus and parent, said recently that he has not given up on the idea of testing public school students for drugs, but is leaning toward voluntary testing rather than making it mandatory.

"If it's voluntary, we eliminate a lot of the legal challenges you would have to it," he said.

Critics suggest that voluntary testing would be a waste of time and money because it would not reach those likely to be using drugs. Aiona argues, however, that it could help identify students who might be inclined to experiment.

"Drug testing is great because the families have to get involved," Aiona said. "The families are going to have to waive this opportunity for drug testing. It's something that cultivates dialogue between you and your child."


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