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Detector dogs search out drugs, explosives

December 28, 1998

Russ Ebersole and JosieBy LAURA ERNDE / Staff Writer

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer




Russ Ebersole of Hagerstown has turned the war on drugs into serious business.

Ebersole founded Detector Dogs Against Drugs and Explosives (DDADE, pronounced "daddy") last year with the idea of putting a dent in the area's substance abuse problems.

He soon discovered his plan had the potential to make money.

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Ebersole said his dogs are trained to detect the tiniest amounts of illegal drugs, gunpowder or explosives.

Parents, schools and business owners have hired Ebersole's dogs for random sweeps at costs ranging from $200 to $1,200.

Todd Snook of Valley Storage Co. hires DDADE to keep watch over more than 2,000 rental storage units he owns in Williamsport, Hagerstown and Martinsburg, W.Va.

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When the dogs indicate the presence of drugs or explosives in a storage unit, Snook calls the tenant to explain what happened and give them two choices - face the police or move out.

"Ninety-nine percent of the time they're gone the next day," Snook said.

Snook said he values the service because, in his line of work, reputation for security is his most important asset.

Schools see DDADE as a way to prevent tragedies like the school shootings in Jonesboro, Ark., and Paducah, Ky., as well as deterring drug use by students, Ebersole said.

Washington County Board of Education member J. Herbert Hardin said he is impressed with the idea and plans to suggest it to fellow board members.

Hardin said the dogs could find anything in the schools.

"It's possible. I'm not going to tell you we're squeaky clean," he said.

Some have questioned whether the sweeps violate privacy rights, but Hardin said courts have upheld locker searches.

"The first obligation is to have a safe environment. I would rather risk an invasion of so-called privacy," he said.

Ebersole is not the police. In fact, he goes out of his way to make sure he won't be called to testify in court.

If his dogs "hit" on a desk drawer, for example, he won't open the drawer. He leaves that up to the client.

If Ebersole's dogs find evidence of drugs in a private home, he gives parents information about drug counseling.

"Keeping the kids out of harm's way is what it's all about," he said.

Sometimes, just the threat of being caught is enough, Ebersole said.

If young people know their parents are hiring DDADE, they have a reason to say no to drugs, he said.

Businesses can use his service to sniff out drug-using employees. Unlike drug tests, his dogs can't be fooled, he said.

Ebersole, a 1978 graduate of South Hagerstown High, envisioned a need for DDADE about two years ago.

When he worked as an electrical engineer and a salesman in Ohio, Ebersole saw his co-workers using drugs to the jeopardy of others.

The wheels started in motion shortly after he and his wife, Karen, bought the family business, Pets Vacationland on Garis Shop Road in Hagerstown.

Ebersole soon realized that starting such a business would be no easy task.

First, he needed permission to keep illegal drugs for training the dogs at Aberdeen Acres in Stephenson, Va., a second kennel the couple owns.

Eventually, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Virginia Board of Pharmacy agreed to license the facility.

The dogs are rewarded with dog food when they pick up the scent of drugs among distracting scents such as toothpaste, coffee, chocolate chip cookies and even dog food.

They are trained to sit down when they detect something. On command, they will paw at the spot.

Ebersole has trained 15 Labradors, German shepherds, golden retrievers and one Rottweiler. He picks high-strung dogs from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

"What we look for is the one with the biggest noses," he said.

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