SHERIDAN — There’s a new pack of dogs in town itching to get in the game of local drug prevention.
Dale Holder and his son, Sean, have set up shop in Big Horn and brought with them a pack of trained drug detection dogs to work under the LLC of Black Tooth K-9 Solutions.
The company advertises “discreet detection for secure environments,” and boasts drug detection capabilities that rival the abilities of police dogs in detection of marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin. However, in this case, it’s the client, not an officer of the law, who initially determines what happens if drugs are found.
“Our services are discretionary,” Dale Holder said. “If an employer suspects drugs are a problem in their workplace, this is a way for them to find out and eliminate the problem.”
Holder said if he were to somehow discover a distribution amount of an illegal drug, he would be bound by law to notify police. However, if there is a smaller amount found when a client does a search, it could potentially be handled without contacting authorities.
Holder said his new business is six years in the making, which included certifying dog and handler teams through the Vohne Liche Kennels- Alpha Dogs program.
While both Holders have a background in police work, these freelance drug detection teams work within a shorter range than the arm of the law; the K-9 handler does not perform a search if the dog alerts. Instead, the search can be done by the client who requested the sniffing.
Holder advertises the service to parents worried about their teens and their friends, proactive employers looking to maximize workplace safety and efficiency, prospective buyers of vehicles or homes and even administrators of public places hoping to resolve an issue away from public scrutiny. Each case, he says, is handled with complete discretion and confidentiality.
Scott Bartlett, manager of Bloedorn Lumber, said he uses Black Tooth K-9 Solutions mainly as a complement to his drug-free workplace program.
“The last thing we’d want is someone in our company to cause damage or hurt someone else on the job site or traveling down the road,” Bartlett said. “We pride ourselves in absolutely making sure we’re safe, and we don’t want to have a chance someone could be under the influence of any type of product.”
Bartlett said his employees are also randomly tested for drugs via urinalysis and periodic searches of the business premises, including vehicles in the parking lot, but not people, to reinforce the importance of sobriety on the job. Additionally, Bartlett said his employees are briefed about the company’s no-tolerance drug policy upon hire.
“The money saved in those actions more than pay for (Holder’s) services to come in and do testing through the facility,” Bartlett said, adding that a drug-related worker’s compensation claim would be a lot more expensive.
Bartlett said there’s also a “shop local” aspect to his choice to hire non-police drug dogs.
“(Holder) is a contractor, and you know how Sheridan is — we work together,” he said. “It’s a service out there, like any other, where we don’t have to tie up our police station or sheriff’s office with random testing.”
“That’s not to say I wouldn’t use the police if it was needed,” Bartlett said.
Coincidentally, Sheridan’s own Chief of Police Richard Adriaens ran a similar business in Michigan years ago. He said the key to running a private sniffing-dog business entails walking a fine line of legality, but the concept of a private drug detection system has its merits.
“A lot of time companies don’t want a government agency to be involved because of embarrassment or concerns of trying to manage their own issues without being in the eye of the public,” Adriaens said. “Everything (police) do ends up being a public issue eventually.”
Adriaens said while police are bound by search and seizure regulations, private companies don’t have the same limitations.
“The Constitution protects people from the government, and not the people from the people,” he said.
“The problem is that (Holder) becomes an accessory to the fact of that crime if he has knowledge of the crime and doesn’t report it,” Adriaens said. “(Possession) is not an intent crime. You either possess it or your don’t. It doesn’t matter why.”
Another problem, Adriaens said, is there’s no legal way to get rid of illegal substances.
“Even if you’re on the way to the police department to drop off narcotics, you could still get in trouble,” Holder said. “The best thing to do is to call the police, say what you’ve found and have them come take possession of it.”
Adriaens said police often have access to information that can increase operational security for anti-drug workers.
“(Holder) has to be cautious that he’s also dealing with an element that’s also not the average person who is using,” he said. “We’d like to think we don’t have big drug dealers in our town, but we do. That’s how people get their stuff.”
That said, Adriaens acknowledges the known periodic presence of drug dogs may proactively keep the issue off workplace property.
“Where the real advantage comes in is it works as a deterrent to make sure no one is using or selling drugs at work,” he said.
The deterrent theme rings true for Holder, who also has security dogs available to appear at public events.
Adriaens also said drug detection dogs may be preferable to random urinalysis to some employers. He said urinalysis testing may detect drug use that occurs outside of work, which some employers may not care to address.
“Is he (the employer) concerned with drug and alcohol use that’s not at work? Only they can answer that for themselves,” Adriaens said. “But, every employer is concerned about alcohol and drug use during work hours. If someone is bringing substances to work, they’re either using or selling them. You don’t want either one of those things. That’s a liability to the employer.”
Holder said it’s also more difficult to evade on-site detection.
“If there’s any way an employee finds out there’s going to be a urinalysis ahead of time, they can flush their body and it won’t be detected,” Holder said.
Holder’s business is unique to the state of Wyoming, and there are not established regulations regarding the gray areas between operating a community-enriching initiative or a vigilante police force. However, Holder is working to close the gap, and he has a vision of his company working side-by-side with existing anti-drug programs.
“We’re trying to work with the state to do periodic detections on the premises so a business doesn’t have to do as many, or any, random drug tests,” Holder said, referring to current programs in place that grant a discount on worker’s compensation insurance for employers who drug test employees.
For now, Sheridan citizens suspicious of drug activity have both a corporate and government option to address the problem.