Minooka Community High School’s furriest “staff member” just turned 4 years old, but has been working in the district for almost a year already.
Goldie, Minooka’s school safety dog, is a non-aggressive search dog trained to seek out illegal drugs, gunpowder-based items such as ammunition and fireworks, alcoholic beverages, and both prescription and over-the-counter drugs in the school and elsewhere on campus.
The board of education for Minooka District 111 agreed last November to give Goldie and her trainer, Glenn VadeBonCoeur, of Interquest Detection Canines, a one-semester trial. Goldie’s first semester in Minooka was donated to the school by the Grundy County State’s Attorney’s office.
“Over the summer, we approached our school board with continuing the program,” said Minooka Assistant Principal Matt Wikoff. “They were very receptive and, fortunate for us, through the hard work and what they saw with Glenn and Goldie, they saw this as a great program to continue.”
Goldie is now in her second semester at Minooka, but has been working with Interquest Detection Canines for about three years, VadeBonCoeur said. She was trained in Houston, Texas, to take over for her predecessor, Dandy, when Dandy retired.
Interquest rescued Goldie from a previous owner who did not want her anymore.
“We’re a nationwide company,” VadeBonCoeur said. “We’ve been in business for roughly 25 years. We have offices scattered from Texas to the East Coast.”
VadeBonCoeur is responsible for the Chicago region, with a total customer list of between 20 and 25 schools. Other than Minooka High, VadeBonCoeur and Goldie also visit local schools in Coal City, Morris, and Ottawa. They also travel to schools in Bradley and make stops at the Lincoln-Way schools, too.
The number of visits to any one school seems to vary throughout the semester, VadeBonCoeur said.
“The more they see us here, the more they understand that the school has taken a very solid stance,” VadeBonCoeur said.
“We try to make it frequent enough to keep a routine in place, but we don’t want to get into a situation where we are advertising that she’s coming,” Wikoff added.
When Goldie arrives in Minooka, she and her trainer meet with the administration to determine a location or several locations that will be searched that day. They visit hallways so she can sniff the lockers, the locker rooms, other common areas, as well as the parking lot so she can sniff cars.
“For her, this is a fun game. She works for her reward — getting to play with the towel,” Goldie’s trainer said as he pulled a white towel from his pocket.
If Goldie finds something that doesn’t belong at the school like she is supposed to, she is rewarded with her toy.
As the dog sets out around the school, she is on the hunt for the multitude of items that do not belong.
“She has a shopping list of things in her head that she knows don’t belong in a school and she’s here to make sure everybody’s safe and clean,” VadeBonCoeur said.
Once she has found a scent, her body language changes drastically. VadeBonCoeur said his dog’s ears perk up and she acts as if she is excited. As soon as she narrows down the exact location of the scent, Goldie just takes a seat in front of it.
At that point, VadeBonCoeur and school personnel investigate the locker, car or whatever location Goldie has found.
“We always give the kids a chance to explain,” VadeBonCoeur said about a situation where something illegal or prohibited is found.
He said he has seen cases where the items in question are not the car owner’s, but rather those of a student who rode in the vehicle that morning. Other times, Goldie has detected a residual scent that has been left in the car from something that occurred over the weekend or even something that was done in the car when it belonged to a previous owner.
Wikoff said percentages of finds seem to be higher in the parking lot in Minooka, but since hiring Goldie to sniff the campus, the amount of detections has gone down.
Unlike dog searches conducted by local police departments with German Shepherds, when Goldie is present in a school, the building does not go into a lock down situation. Goldie interacts with the students in the hallways and can also help in other ways at the school when she is not “sniffing.”
Goldie can participate in classroom presentations, such as a biology lesson about how a dog’s nose works, VadeBonCoeur explained, or American Law classes discussing search and seizure laws.
“It’s always fun to go into the classrooms and be with the kids,” VadeBonCoeur said.
Goldie will be visiting Minooka High School for the remainder of the school year and beyond into the foreseeable future, Wikoff said.