October 23, 2008

Parents Use Drug-Sniffing Dogs In Teens Rooms

A highly trained German shepherd drug-sniffing dog that spent eight years on narcotics patrol with the New Jersey police force is now working in the private sector, sniffing teenagers' bedrooms.

The dog, named Ali, and his handler now work for a new company in New Jersey called Sniff Dogs, who rent drug-sniffing canines to parents for $200 an hour.

Debra Stone started the company and says her five trained dogs can detect heroin, cocaine, crystal meth and ecstasy.

Stone says her dogs' noses are sensitive enough to smell a marijuana seed from up to 15 feet away and marijuana residue on clothing from drugs smoked two nights before.

One parent in Washington, N.J. turned to the dogs to search her teenagers' bedrooms.

"Most kids will deny it and then where do you turn?" said Pat Winterstein, a mother of three. "Not knowing is worrisome. It's nice to know you can have something you can turn to."

Winterstein says she'll keep doing the tests periodically, if necessary, to ensure that her children stay free of drugs.

Critics of the approach fear it will damage the trust between parents and children, but Winterstein says it offers her solace.

"As a parent you worry," she said. "My kids are great. I trust my kids, but you only can trust them so far."

Along with drug-sniffing dogs, parents are also keeping tabs on their kids through Global Positioning System devices that can be sewn into children's clothing to monitor how fast they're driving, and software that allows a parent to read text messages.

Some psychologists, however, say these surveillance techniques can backfire.

"There are major repercussions for this type of intervention," said Dr. Neil Bernstein, a Washington, D.C.-based clinical psychologist and author of the book "How to Keep Your Teen Out of Trouble."

"When parents do this it erodes trust and goodwill."

But Melinda Bennington of Chatham, N.J., whose son Tom died of a heroin overdose two years ago, wishes she would have had such an option to help her see the warnings signs before it was too late.

"Had I known that in eighth grade he had actually already started snorting heroin, I probably would have done some things differently," she said.

Both Bennington and Winterstein believe that checking up on children is a parent's right and a responsibility.

Winterstein acknowledges that kids are going to make mistakes. "And I just want them to know that I'm here for them and that I'm doing my job to love and protect them. This is my way of protecting them."


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