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Dog follows nose to keep sober-living houses drug-free – Camarillo Acorn

Dog follows nose to keep sober-living houses drug-free

Trained to detect marijuana, heroin, cocaine, meth and other narcotics

By Alicia Doyle

Nancy Swanson knows what it takes to stay clean. She’s been sober for 31 years. The addiction treatment specialist wants to help others free themselves of their drug habits.

One of the biggest problems, though, is understanding that those looking to get sober often struggle with leaving the drugs behind.

“If an addict wants to use drugs, they’re going to find drugs and use it,” said Swanson, clinical director at Tribe Integrative Recovery in Camarillo. She also oversees a nearby 12-bed coed sober-living site.

She said addicts will go to great lengths to hide their drugs, even while in recovery. That’s a problem that affects everyone around them.

“I want my program to be clean for all the people that are struggling because one person can bring drugs into a house and like dominoes they will fall because they’re new in sobriety and so vulnerable,” she said.

Swanson adopted Xanax about four years ago from the Little Rock K-9 Academy in Arkansas, where the dog was trained in narcotic detection. Today Xanax is known at Tribe Integrative Recovery, as well as other treatment centers throughout Ventura County and beyond, as the dog who helps addicts stay clean by keeping their sober-living sites drug-free.

Dog follows nose to keep sober-living houses drug-freeON THE JOB—Nancy Swanson, clinical director at Tribe Integrative Recovery in Camarillo, works with Xanax, a Belgium Malinois dog that is trained in narcotic detection.

SUSAN WEININGER/Acorn Newspapers Enter Xanax, a female Belgian Malinois. The dog’s job? To sniff out drugs brought into treatment facilities.

“I’m always training her with new scents,” said Swanson, noting that Xanax is trained to detect marijuana, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and other narcotics. “I’m not a cop. I don’t want to be a cop. I just want the places to stay clean.”

The training involves the use of a hollow yellow ball that Swanson fills with either the real drug or a pseudo drug with all the chemical agents except the narcotic. Swanson hides the ball in random places for Xanax to find.

Swanson is training Xanax to sniff out the latest trend in drugs: bath salts.

“It’s the new drug that kids are using,” Swanson said. “They’re snorting it now, and it makes them crazy. It’s a lot of chemicals and stuff that’s really bad for you.”

Her dog’s super sniffer has found drugs that are undetectable to a human nose, including a single marijuana seed or remnants of a drug that was hidden weeks ago.

“One time she kept pulling out this bra, and I’m thinking there’s nothing there,” Swanson said. “Just as I’m about to scold her, I feel a little difference in the texture of the two cups. One was a little crinkly, and it had a bag of heroin in it.”

Another time, Xanax sniffed out marijuana hidden in a bathroom among more than a dozen rolls of toilet paper.

“She had me take out every one of these toilet tissues and the very last one had pot hidden in it,” Swanson said.

In one case, Xanax was searching a sober living house in Malibu but found nothing inside. “So I take her out to the car, and she runs into this field behind the house. And I’m like, ‘What is she doing?’” Swanson said. “Turns out somebody came back from a pass and they had a crack pipe and threw it out into the field so they wouldn’t get stuck with it.”

Evan Schroth, case manager at Tribe Integrative Recovery, said having Xanax as part of the team “is pretty awesome.”

“No matter how hard we search as people there’s always someplace that somebody can put something or bring it in afterwards because you can’t search them every time they come in and out of the house,” said Schroth, a Calabasas resident.

West Hills resident Ricki Bass, a program director at Tribe, said keeping a drug-free environment is extremely important for the recovery process.

“When you’re first getting sober, those thoughts are still in your head of using, and knowing that Xanax is there keeps you in line, too,” she said.

Caleb Smalley, a client at Tribe who has lived in the sober-living house for nearly four months, said Xanax makes the facility safer for recovering addicts like him.

“I’m here to better my life, and I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum,” said Smalley, 24, a heroin and meth addict who has been clean for 120 days. “I’ve gotten everything that I’ve lost back, and I don’t want to lose it in one night. That’s all it takes for me.”


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