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Trained dog serves multiple purposes at sober residence

May 26, 2015
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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An 8-year-old English Labrador Retriever named Mik resides at the Williamsburg House sober home in Brooklyn and has become something of a beloved neighborhood celebrity. But make no mistake—Mik works for his status. Besides serving as a companion for the men and women staying at the New York City recovery residence, Mik applies his training as a narcotic detection dog to reinforce a drug-free environment at the home.

Home operator Joe Schrank, who says he knows of no other sober house that has used a dog in this capacity, emphasizes that Mik wasn't brought in to be an intimidating presence. “I think of him as a recovery tool,” he says. “We're trying to build a therapeutic alliance with these folks.”

And in fact, Schrank says Mik has uncovered less in the way of drugs since becoming part of Williamsburg House three years ago, though he believes his presence serves as a deterrent to bringing substances into the home.

“You cannot trip up a narcotic detection dog,” Schrank says. No matter whether someone hides drugs behind a switch plate or wraps them in foil and wedges them behind a couch, a trained dog's keen sense of smell will identify them, he says.

Police background

A Texas municipal police department's loss because of budget cuts became Williamsburg House's gain in the opportunity to obtain a trained narcotic detection dog. Schrank, a social worker who is in long-term recovery, had no hesitation about obtaining a dog, but some colleagues did. “Some asked, 'What are we, the cops?'” he says.

But Schrank believes Mik adds another level of accountability to what was the first operating sober home in New York City, housed in a mixed-use former warehouse building that also is home to a yoga studio, a chocolate factory and other enterprises. When a new resident comes in, usually from a primary treatment stay, Mik can immediately tell the operators whether drugs are stashed in the new arrival's personal belongings.

Moreover, Schrank says, “Parents love that we have a narcotic detection dog.”

He doesn't understand why more facilities wouldn't want to go this route. “I've told others, 'I'll bring the dog over tell you if drugs are in the house,'” he says.

Mik is hardly a menacing presence; residents take him for walks and he relates well to neighbors in the surrounding community. Narcotic detection dogs tend to “self-retire” from that role at some point, and Schrank says he's already prepared for the time when Williamsburg House will get another dog whose stay will overlap with Mik's.