Mik, a narcotics detection dog in New York, has a very different job from other dogs with his same training. He keeps recovering addicts honest and accountable. How, you might ask? By examining their luggage when they arrive at The Core Company’s Loft 107, a post-rehab, sober-living facility, and by helping families of possible users finally accept that their loved ones have a drug problem.

Labrador Retriever Mik puts his skills to use at a sober-living environment in New York City. All photographs courtesy Loft 107.

He was originally trained for a small police department in Texas whose K9 unit was soon disbanded. Mik (pronounced like “Mick”) was returned to the company that trained him, Worldwide Canine in Spring Branch, Texas. He did some temporary work, but Worldwide was looking for a permanent placement for the 8-month-old Labrador Retriever.

No Ifs, Ands or Buts
In the meantime, Joe Schrank, an addiction expert and CEO and founder of The Core Company, kept receiving telephone calls from people who had concerns about a family member, but who used every possible explanation as to why that person didn’t have a drug problem, as many families are wont to do. “Lots of times the family doesn’t want this to be an issue with their family member. Really, in all honestly, the tipping point was these people would call me and want to argue,” Schrank says.

He wanted to be able to tell those callers: “‘We don’t need to speculate. We have an actual tangible system that will tell you.’ That stops the conversation. The truth is that by the time people call us, there’s been something going on for a long time.”

Having grown up in a police family, he knew about drug detection dogs and the various types of environments in which they can work. In fact, he says, he always wanted his dad to be with the canine unit, but never was. “You see [drug detection dogs] around, and it sort of reframes your thinking about your skill. While Schrank’s experience and knowledge are pretty reliable when it comes to identifying someone who is using, a dog is virtually perfect at it. He realized that such a dog could give families a definitive answer – no ifs, ands or buts.

“Mik doesn’t have feelings about it. He smells it, or he doesn’t smell it. It keeps everybody based in reality.”

The great thing about Mik, he says, is that the message ends up being, “‘Here it is, and what do you want to do about it?’ At least you have the knowledge.

If drugs are in someone’s house, Mik will find them. And there’s no longer any question about whether a daughter or son, or partner or spouse, is using.

Schrank points out, however, that he and Mik are not the police. “People think of the DEA and a SWAT team, but for us he’s a therapy tool. We’re not interested in anything punitive. All the info Mik gathers is for our clinical work and for the person’s own knowledge.” He does, however, recommend to the family that the local police be contacted to self-report the drugs in the home, and “the person who is responsible [for the drugs] go into treatment.”

Mik checks out packages and luggage taken into Loft 107, a sober living environment, he also searches the homes of families who suspect a family member is using illegal drugs.

Back at the Loft
At Loft 107, in what once was a chocolate warehouse, Schrank and Mik live downstairs, while 10 to 12 residents live upstairs. Most move after being in a drug rehabilitation program. “The re-entry into the community is one of the most tricky parts of the whole [recovery] thing,” Schrank says. The 5-year-old facility is for people who aren’t using anymore, but aren’t ready to live on their own without readily available support from people who have been in their shoes. And without someone like Mik to help keep them clean.

“We live in New York City,” Schrank says, pointing out that a lot of sober-living facilities are much more isolated. And, he says, while “anyone can access anything at anytime anywhere,” it’s a lot easier to get drugs smack dab in the middle of a big city. The converted 7,000-square-foot facility is a lot of ground to cover when searching for any contraband. “Generally we know if someone is not doing well [possibly edging toward using again or actually using] by their behavior.” But Schrank knew it would be a lot easier with a narcotics detection dog.

“Two of the things that help people in recovery are responsibility and accountability. He keeps people honest, and he keeps all of us accountable.”

He’s also quite an asset when a new resident moves in. “When we get someone who’s checking in, Mik can go through their luggage very quickly,” Schrank says. “It’s much easier for us to have Mik pinpoint what we’re looking for. We have found things sewn into the lining” of a bag.

When he does find something, he simply sits, wags his tail and stares at Schrank.

Whether that person will be allowed to move in after Mik identifies some substance is decided on an individual basis, Shrank says.

Because 5-year-old Mik is a working dog, he’s not allowed on the furniture, nor can he have treats of human food. When he retires, though, all that will change.

Despite the fact that Mik is essentially a tattler, he is “very popular” with residents, Schrank says. Although he’s a “friendly house pet,” he is not allowed on the furniture, and everyone is prohibited from giving him human food of any kind.

It’s also a bit difficult for Schrank’s 8-year-old son who visits often and “would love to throw a tennis ball for Mik.” Because Schrank is Mik’s handler, only he is allowed to play with or walk the dog.

And Mik knows it’s time to work as soon as Schrank breaks out his slip collar.

Fortunately for the residents, two other dogs play the roles of mascots, companions and, essentially, therapy dogs. They do not, however, hang out with Mik. “They would teach him to sleep all day and beg,” Schrank says, not jesting in the least.

“We get people coming out of rehab who are very shut down emotionally,” Schrank explains. Italian Mastiff Lucy and Bulldog Churchill are very gentle, he says, and love to be petted. “The dogs aren’t mad at them; they’re not divorcing them. Dogs bring a lot to everything,” including recovery.

Now 5, Mik shows no sign that he’s losing his drive to do his job, Schrank says. When he does, “We’ll retire him, and we’ll let him on the couch.” Before that day comes, though, if there’s enough call for Mik’s services, Schrank may need to get another narcotics detection dog.

Thus far, the experience and results with Mik have been “fantastic,” Schrank says, although he might not get such a good deal on another dog. He paid just $2,500 for Mik. “I think they were just happy to find Mik a home where he could do what he was trained to do.”

And do it he does, every single day.