Dog demonstration prompts parental concerns at meeting

By Greg Gelpi

Concerned about how dogs will be used to deter school contraband, Clayton County parents welcomed the school system's action, but expressed apprehension as well.

"This I can appreciate as a Band-Aid," parent Anthony Williams said, but he asked what else the school system is doing to ensure students' safety. "Dogs have a way of frightening some children."

The school system is initiating the pilot program in response to increasing school safety concerns.

Ashley Marratt, the president of the Georgia office of Interquest Detection Canines, which has contracted with Clayton County schools on the pilot program, demonstrated the dog's abilities and how he will be used to detect guns, drugs, alcohol and prescription medications to the community Wednesday night.

Jordy, the 3-year-old English springer spaniel, who will be brought in to search Clayton County schools, isn't like police dogs, who are trained to be aggressive, Marratt said. He won't be used to search students.

"We're focused on deterrence, not intimidation," she said.

Walking Jordy along a set of book bags, Marratt showed how Jordy "alerts" on a scent by sitting next to a suspicious bag.

That demonstration, though, made Lovejoy High School parent Shanda Nobles ask about the accuracy of the dog, since he had to stop a couple of times around the bags.

"I do believe something is better than nothing," Nobles said.

Clayton County schools' pilot program will bring trained dogs on to the campuses of Mt. Zion, Forest Park and Lovejoy high schools through the end of the school year. A report will be made to the Clayton County Board of Education at the end of the program to determine whether or not to continue using the dogs.

The school system is negotiating the cost of the pilot program.

Assistant Superintendent Sam King called it a "positive preventative measure," and said the school system is also looking into other programs.

"We feel that this is a major step in the right direction," King said.

Marratt said that Interquest has been providing services with Henry County schools since January and with Carroll County and Washington County school systems longer.

"On the whole I think we've done this in over 10,000 schools," she said of the company that has been in business for about 25 years. "It's not like we're reinventing the wheel."

George Eckerle, the principal of Luella High School, one of the two Henry County high schools using Interquest, said that there have been no problems with the dogs and that the dogs serve as a deterrent.

At the end of last school year, the company's 83 dogs trained for detecting contraband had about 6,500 alerts on drugs, 9,600 alerts on prescription medication, 3,900 alerts on alcohol and 3,900 alerts on gunpowder nationwide, Marratt said.