He’s four-legged, furry and focused on safety in Indian Prairie schools

By Cathy Janek For Chronicle Media

: “Bear,” a specially-trained Golden Retriever, sniffs a row of lockers at an Indian Prairie district school. He was trained to detect the presence of prohibited items like illicit drugs and narcotics, gunpowder-based items and alcohol. (Photo courtesy Indian Prairie District 204)

A four-legged, furry addition is now part of Indian Prairie District 204’s school safety team.

Since the start of the 2018-19 school year, “Bear,” a specially-trained Golden Retriever, has made unannounced visits to all District 204 high schools—Neuqua Valley, Metea Valley, Waubonsie Valley and Indian Plains—to ensure the safety of students and staff.

Bear was trained by Interquest Detection Canines to detect the presence of prohibited items that threaten safety in today’s schools including illicit drugs and narcotics, gunpowder-based items, beverages that contain alcohol, and commonly abused prescription and over-the-counter medications.

“We have a history of working with law enforcement agencies and canine units,” said Dr. Louis Lee, Indian Prairie School District Assistant Superintendent. “As part of this process, when the canine units come out, it places the building on temporary hold, while the canines do an active search.”

The district is aware that such a visit can disrupt the day, but not so when Bear arrives.

“We don’t have to go to a hold in place,” Lee said. “We can do more frequent visits and sort of (adapt) this school safety dog into the high school community, so that it becomes part of the student’s day without them feeling that there is any type of tension or threat given to the building.”

Statistics have not been released on the number of visits Bear has made to each District 204 school or the number of prohibited items found. But Lee said Bear does visit each District 204 high school several times throughout each month.

“Keeping the anonymity of when Bear is visiting does two things for us,” Lee said. “The whole reason we want this program is because it helps to aid in our prevention efforts and encourages students to make positive choices.

“One of the best things we want to hear from one of Bear’s visits is he didn’t find anything,” he added.  “That tells us students are making great choices and those things are not coming into our school building.”

Bear also  makes visits to other high schools throughout the Chicago area, “as much as we would love to have him just to ourselves,” Lee said.

“We love how he has been embraced by the students, staff, and community,” added.  “In such a quick time, he has become known by his name and when he walks through the hallways, the students recognize him and look forward to him coming. He has become part of the school culture. A face like that can move mountains.”

Interquest has been working to enhance safety on school campuses around the country for over 15 years. They typically train friendly, non-aggressive breeds such as Golden and Labrador Retrievers to work in the school environment.

Bear also has had a few chances to help in the classroom educating students.

Bear and his handler have participated in classes explaining case law involved with search and seizure. He has also helped demonstrate in a science class how nerve endings in a dog differ from a person.

“We recognize that Bear’s visits represent only one dog, one visit, and one tool,” Lee said. “We have other efforts in place to help our students to make positive choices and those will continue.”

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