'A hired nose': Regina woman and her dog sniff out drug problems

Two deaths and several overdoses apparently linked to fentanyl in Saskatoon over the weekend have further encouraged Dawn Meisner to curb addictions with her dog drug sniffing service.

Dawn Meisner and Aero provide confidential drug detection services

Aero, the Labrador retriever, waits for his owner's cue to start searching for narcotics. (CBC News)

Two deaths and several overdoses apparently linked to fentanyl in Saskatoon over the weekend have further encouraged Dawn Meisner to curb addictions with her dog drug sniffing service.

Meisner recently opened an independent drug detection business in Regina called Confidential Canine Narcotics Detection.

"We need to be open and proactive, and I think I am a proactive piece in this whole puzzle," said Meisner, with her 18-month-old chocolate-coloured lab, Aero, sitting patiently by her side. 

The duo is hired to enter workplaces or homes and can identify the presence of cannabis, crystal meth, cocaine, ecstasy or heroin. Meisner said next steps — legal or otherwise — are up to the client.

"It's prevalent in our society and it's not going to go away," she said.

Dawn Meisner owns Confidential Canine Narcotic Detection in Regina. (CBC News)

Sniffing it out

When Aero picks up the scent, she responds passively by sitting and staring at the location where drugs are detected. The handler safely retrieves any substance present.

"I'm basically a hired nose," Meisner said.

If drugs are retrieved and addiction is suspected, she offers concerned families suggestions for rehabilitation programs and counselling services.

Risking their lives

Meisner and Aero were certified through the Signature Odour Scent Work (Narcotic or Explosives) program out of the Justice Institute of British Columbia. The program is equivalent to military and police requirements.

It can be a dangerous because the team could potentially find deadly drugs.

Both fentanyl and carfentanil are powerful opioid drugs. Fentanyl is used in small doses to treat pain, and carfentanil was created to sedate large animals. Just one dose the size of a grain of sand could cause death.

Meisner carries a naloxone kit in case either one comes in contact with fentanyl.

Meisner and Aero prepare to go on a planned search. (CBC News)

Right dog for the job

Labrador retrievers are typically the breed chosen to be drug detection dogs — but not every dog has the necessary qualities for the job.

Chris Oudshoorn has been breeding working dogs like Aero for over 20 years.

"We specifically look for a dog that wants to play all day long and doesn't want to stop," said Oudshoorn, adding that a lean physique and longer than normal snout are also desirable qualities.

He estimated only about one in 100 Labrador retrievers that he's bred have what it takes to become a drug detection dog.

Meisner said she's currently looking to expand her workforce with another lab.