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A four legged drive for drug free schools

Drugs should not be part of a 13-year-old’s daily life, according to parents with students at Porter Creek Secondary School.

Drugs should not be part of a 13-year-old’s daily life, according to parents with students at Porter Creek Secondary School.

But many students in the territory’s schools are faced with drugs and the tough decisions that follow.

“I don’t think, at 13 years old, one of the choices (my son) should have to make at school should be whether or not he buys drugs or uses drugs,” said parent Jocelyn Laveck.

“My child is 13 and he’s heard drug deals going down; he smells pot all the time; he had a friend who took his MP3 player and tried to sell it; and he’s seen crack pipes.”

However, a four-legged, tail-wagging remedy may be on the way.

At a recent meeting, some Porter Creek Secondary School parents presented the school council with a drug dog program, with a twist.

Rather than representing a police presence, the dog is supposed to become a school pet. And when it sniffs out drugs in a locker, the dog sits down on its haunches.

Called Dogs for Drug-Free Schools, the program was created in Alberta and is currently operating in schools in Edmonton and Medicine Hat.

It shows promise, partially, because it seems to be working well in Alberta, said Porter Creek Secondary School principal Kerry Huff.

“My understanding is that the dog is part of the school environment — it’s meant as a deterrent,” said Huff.

“Students would see it from a puppy up.”

Because the dog becomes part of school life, it is less threatening when it starts sniffing around for everything from marijuana to crack to crystal meth.

“The dog comes into the school, it’s almost like a pet of the school, but it does the job of sniffing out drugs,” said Laveck. “It’s a very non-invasive program.”

In Albertan cities, local police officers travel to schools with a Labrador retriever from the time it’s a two-month-old puppy.

With daily visits, the hope is that students bond with the dog.

“It’s not confrontational like the regular drug-sniffing dog is,” said Porter Creek Secondary School Council member Bonnie Burns.

The dog would not do random searches, according to information from Medicine Hat. It would only put its nose to locker doors when school staff suspected drugs in a specific location.

This passive approach is also non-discriminatory, according to a report from Medicine Hat.

“The dog is therapy for those students who do not socialize with other students in the school,” the report said.

“The dog does not judge, discriminate or hold grudges against anyone.”

Intrigued by the concept of bringing a different kind of drug dog into Porter Creek Secondary, the school council has arranged for a police officer from Medicine Hat to visit the territory in early April.

The best way to see if a pup fits the problem is to bring Sgt. Randy Youngman up, said Burns in a recent interview.

“As well as the council deciding, we want all of our parents to be on board, and the department of Education,” she said.

Promoting awareness and deterrence are also key goals of the program, she added.

“It’s not an enforcement tool either, it’s more for awareness.

“The object isn’t to catch kids doing drugs. It’s to prevent (drugs) from getting into the school.”

How serious is the drug problem at Porter Creek Secondary?

“My son has gone into this school now for one semester and the drug problem is out of control,” said Laveck.

“I’m a Porter Creek parent, but I think it’s in all the schools.”

A more concrete overview of how deeply drugs have infiltrated students’ lives should be available by the end of April.

Burns, along with members of the council’s drug sub-committee, polled students about drug use in an anonymous survey.

 While parents brought the program forward, Laveck hopes other groups will throw their weight behind it.

“I think the RCMP and the department of Education have an obligation to our kids,” she said.

“They have to step up to the plate and take some action.

“As far as I’m concerned they haven’t yet taken the initiative to do that.”

 Youngman will be in the territory from April 3 to 7. A community-wide talk will be hosted at Porter Creek school on April 5.

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