An enterprising German trains his pooch to become the country's first dope-busting dog-for-hire.
KREFELD — Thor doesn’t need drugs to feel good. He seems happy with life as it is. But drugs do have a major impact on the two-year-old German Shepherd’s mood. When he sniffs them out, his tail starts to wag. “And he knows there’s a nice reward in store,” says his owner Reiner Reuther.
It’s a hot afternoon in the western Germany’s city of Krefeld, and Reuther is holding a small bag marked “cocaine.” He takes out little piles of the substance and hides them in a cupboard and some suitcases. This is a training session with Thor. Practice makes perfect, although the dog’s repertoire is already state-of-the-art. As far as illegal substances go — heroin, cocaine, crystal meth — he can sniff them all out.
Thor is the first drug-sniffing dog for rent in Germany. Clients include parents who suspect their kids of smoking hash and employers who wonder if staffers are using coke. Prisons and boarding schools also request his services.
Reuther has been in business only since May, and though he declines to divulge exact figures, he says he’s had a couple of dozen clients so far. “This may turn out to be a really successful venture, but it could be that my idea is on the market five years too early,” he says. The idea came from the United States, where private drug-sniffing dogs are fairly common. But in Germany the police have so far had a monopoly on sniffer dogs.
Canines on the border
Reuther took Thor to the U.S. for a two-month course at a dog-training school in Texas. Having “graduated,” Thor is a certified Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) drug-detection dog. In Texas, the war against drugs is a lucrative business because customs authorities hire private subcontractors to patrol the Mexican border.
Krefeld is not that far from the Dutch border, where a lot of drugs are smuggled into Germany. But searching for them remains the task of the state, so there are no business possibilities for Reuther there. There are other places, however, where the state has too few dogs to deal with the problem.
The state of North Rhine Westphalia (where Krefeld is located), for example, has a massive drug problem in its prison system — and only six canine units. Thor could play a role here, and state authorities are currently considering contracting private-sector dogs.
In private households, one session with Thor costs a flat rate of 95 euros. He has also been hired to sniff through clubs and company offices. Clients often want to keep things discreet, so Reuther and Thor show up in an unmarked vehicle. But sometimes part of the strategy is scaring people, which is why Reuther drives up with a trailer emblazoned with a large sign that reads “DRUG DETECTION DOG.”
Reuther says he himself was never into drugs. The 50-year-old spent 25 years working in restaurants and trained dogs on the side for fun. His two other German Shepherds are trained as guard dogs, whereas Thor is trained exclusively to detect drugs. Besides, he's friendly and comes across as harmless, which is important because he has to work in places like kids’ rooms.
Isn’t that a little skewed? Parents resorting to investigating their children’s rooms? “I can’t and won’t judge that,” says Reuther. “All the dog does is sniff out the stash, and it’s up to the clients to deal appropriately with the situation.” He is not required by law to report findings to the police. His advice to parents is to contact Drogenhilfe, an organization in Germany that counsels users.
Reuther has daily sessions with Thor, and says the drugs used in training aren’t the real thing — they’re imitations he gets from the U.S. German customs officials nevertheless give him a hard time about them. The attitude is more flexible in the U.S., he says, where real drugs are used to train the dogs.
So what happens if his business idea doesn’t take off? He’ll move to Texas, Reuther says. The drug war going on there would offer him and Thor all the work they could possibly handle.