For parents who ever wondered whether their kids were stoned or just moody, strung out or just high strung, Zuko could be the answer.
The 6-year-old Belgian Malinois and his two canine cohorts could be the last weapon for parents in the war on drugs in their own home. For a fee, the trained and certified dogs will be dispatched to sniff out a kid's hidden stash, or to find evidence that drugs were recently in the house.
It's a new service called Dogs Finding Drugs operated by Anne Wills, the owner of a Maryland non-profit, who said she wanted to give parents an extra resource, when trying to talk to their kids about drugs just isn't working.
"They're based off of four main scents – heroin, marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamines," Wills said. "They can detect those odors and they can detect anything that has the components of those things in it too."
Wills charges about $200 an hour for the service, which can also be performed at businesses and schools. A sweep of an average-sized house, she said, takes about an hour, though parents can opt just to have the children's rooms and cars searched.
Despite the price tag that may be prohibitively hefty for some families, "we don't want to turn anybody down."
"If money's a problem," she said, "we'll work with the family."
Wills said that in the few hours after news of her just-launched service hit local media, she had booked a half a dozen clients -- all parents -- and had a list of prospective clients to call back. To keep up with demand, Wills expects to expand her team of canines, with two trained dogs on reserve, plus her own dog, which is currently being trained.
"There's a tremendous market. The drugs are so rampant in the schools. Anywhere the kids go they are exposed to it," she said.
She warned parents not to put it past kids to know better than to stash their hoard in the typical go-to hiding places like drawers, books and closets.
"Your child is going to get very creative," she said. "They may hide the stuff in your own bedroom, just so you wouldn't look for it."
Some teens, she said, have taken to hiding their drugs in jars of peanut butter or coffee cans -- scents that may throw off their parents, but not a dog that's been trained to identify individual scents.
When the dogs hit on evidence of drugs, the handlers tell the parents where to look and leave it up to them to find what they're kids have been hiding. Dogs Finding Drugs does not confiscate the drugs nor do they notify authorities, though Wills said she encourages the parents do so.
"We're not law enforcement," she said. "We let them [the parents] go open up the drawer, take the drugs out and then they decide what the course of action will be."
Elizabeth Robertson, the National Institute on Drug Abuse's chief of prevention research, said sending a dog in rather than just talking to a child "creates distrust and puts up a barrier between a parent and child."
And if parents have tried talking and know their children are doing drugs anyway, then "what's the purpose of bringing a dog in the house?" she asked.
"Once their exhibiting the behavior it's up to the parent to get professional help," Robertson said. "Bringing a dog into the house is not going to convince a kid to stop doing drugs."
The Dogs Finding Drugs dogs boast certifications from the National Tactical Police Dog Association (NTPDA) and live with their trained handlers.