New Police Dog To Fight Vaping At Monomoy High School

By: Alan Pollock

A police dog from the Barnstable County Sheriff’s Office visits with schoolchildren in Harwich. FILE PHOTO

HARWICH When they start the new school year this fall, Monomoy Regional High School students will be greeted by a dog who’s looking for love, attention, and the scent of marijuana or nicotine.

Harwich Police Officer Tom Clarke, the Monomoy High school resource officer, proposed the idea as a means of supporting the school’s ongoing fight against vaping. The dog will be trained to detect marijuana and its active ingredient, THC, as well as nicotine, both of which are used in e-cigarettes and other vaping devices.

“I really think this program is going to be a game-changer in helping to keep vaping out of our schools,” Clarke said. When a suitable dog becomes available, it will be “odor imprinted” to respond to those substances, and will then be trained full-time for around eight weeks. It should be ready for duty on the first day of school in September; while it will spend most of its time at the high school, it will also be used for drug awareness classes and school safety presentations at the other schools.

Monomoy High School currently uses increased supervision and enhanced health education to fight vaping, as well as “Project Connect,” which provides support for students seeking to quit vaping. “We’ve already found that [with] our move from punitive measures in 2018-19 to educational and support measures this year, we have shown a decline in vape use among our students, especially repeat offenders,” Principal Bill Burkhead said. The dog will be a new part of the program.

“I see it as an excellent complement to the very proactive measures we are currently taking at MRHS,” he said. “I am also very proud of our students who have taken a stand against use in our school.” The overwhelming majority of Monomoy high school students want the school to be free from drugs, alcohol and vaping, he said.

“The intention of the dog is to create and promote a safe school,” Burkhead said. “Having another ally (the dog) in our school each day sends a positive message that we care about our students’ social/emotional health, well-being and safety.” The dog is also a deterrent to would-be users.

“For those who are in violation, the consequences are educational with the potential loss of privileges. I don’t see that as punishment, but as a life lesson,” said Burkhead.

Training the dog to detect alcohol was considered as well, Clarke said, but found to be not feasible.

“After further research and speaking with other dog handlers, we discovered ethanol (the chemical compound in vodka) is also found in perfume and that could cause...false positives,” he said.

The cost of the dog and its training isn’t known yet. If the dog isn’t donated by a kennel or breeder or found in a shelter, it might cost upwards of $4,000. “Ideally, the dog needs to be approximately one year old to train effectively with respect to scent detection,” he said. The breed isn’t particularly important; it could be a lab or golden retriever or even a sheepdog, Clarke noted. The best candidate will have a strong nose and a temperament suitable for working in a school.

Financial donations are needed to purchase and train the dog, and any additional money will be used to care for and feed it. Donations can be sent to the Harwich Police Association, 183 Sisson Rd., Harwich, MA 02645, and should be earmarked for the school K9 project; contributions can also be brought to the high school.

The dog will go with Clarke to the high school every day and will go home with him when off duty. While the dog’s primary mission is to fight vaping, it will also be a tool to make kids more comfortable interacting with the school resource officer, he added.

“They are much more likely to approach and interact with police officers that have a friendly dog by their side,” Clarke said. “Kids have a much easier time talking about difficult or uncomfortable things when they can look at and pat the dog while telling their story.” The dog will also be a generally friendly presence in the schools.

“These dogs can make serious and sometimes scary topics like active shooter training a bit lighter and more enjoyable for the younger students at the middle and elementary levels,” Clarke said.

When it comes to fruition, the program will be the only one of its kind in the region.

“This is a unique opportunity for us. We have the ability to add an extra layer of protection as far as keeping our students healthy and safe,” Clarke said. “and on top of that, to then be able to improve relationships, build trust and have a positive impact with these kids, it’s an absolute home run in my mind.”