A 7-year-old chocolate-colored Labrador retriever didn't have to do much to impress a group of Rice Elementary School students.
Using simple hand motions to make him sit and lie down, Caren Cardwell had the kids excitedly participating in the process.
However, it's the dog's day job and not his tricks that his owners and school leaders hope will stick with the students.
Lucas is trained to detect four types of things: illegal drugs, alcohol, gun powder and medicine.
The dog spends his days sniffing for the items and a simple stance -- sitting on his hind legs, ears pressed back to his head, eyes on his handler -- signals he found something.
"He's trained to come to school and look for things that are not safe for you," Ms. Cardwell, owner of Interquest Detection Canines of North East Texas, told the students.
Her visit was part of a week full of drug prevention activities. Tyler ISD schools like many others around the state and nation celebrated Red Ribbon Week during the last week of October.
Part of the national Red Ribbon Campaign, the week's purpose is to present a united and visible commitment toward the creation of a drug-free America, according to a website about it.
School district activities varied with most schools having themed dress days related to anti-drug phrases and others bringing in speakers or special presentations.
Marty Barbieri, TISD director of guidance and counseling, said counselors typically select a theme and try to center the activities around it so students remember the message.
Although it's difficult for children to remember facts or details, a speaker's message or particular activity often can have a greater effect, she said.
"Later on, they are more likely to think about it as they get older," Ms. Barbieri said. "I don't think you can start too young to help kids formulate decision making."
LEARNING FROM THE DRUG DOGS
After sharing with the students about Lucas' work, Ms. Cardwell talked about the hazards of drugs and the importance of being cautious and choosing friends wisely.
She urged the students not to store anything for people they don't know or even for people they do know if they don't know what they are storing.
She told of one occasion when a young man stored something for his girlfriend and it ended up having drugs inside.
"I knew it wasn't him, but I couldn't get him out of trouble because he's the one who had it," Ms. Cardwell said.
She told the students that when they get a locker, they need to be responsible for what is inside the locker.
And she urged them to pick their friends carefully and make good choices.
After the presentation, Rice fourth-grader Isaac Carney, 9, said it's important to stay away from people who do drugs and to pray for them.
He said he enjoyed learning about how they train the dog and motivate it with a toy.
"I was really surprised they didn't give him any treats or good stuff," he said.
Second-grader Riley Jones, 7, said she learned from the presentation that dogs can figure out some things that people can't such as the contents of a closed box or sealed bag. She didn't realize they could be used for this.
"I thought dogs were just supposed to be pets," she said.
SPREADING THE MESSAGE
Rice Elementary School Principal Shelly Bosley said this year the school combined bullying and drug prevention activities into a monthlong program.
Anti-bullying week is the first week of October and Red Ribbon Week is the last week of the month.
So, Rice counselor Diana Koop decided since both of those issues deal with respect -- respect of self, others and the school -- they would combine them into one theme.
"It's been very, very, very effective to kind of tie the two together," Ms. Bosley said.
Each Wednesday of the month, Rice had a special-dress day for students and teachers in addition to activities, programs or lessons about saying no to bullying and drugs.
Using the iMovie app on the iPad, Ms. Koop also made movies with the Rice students as the stars.
The movies revolve around the themes of respect and avoiding bullying and drugs.
Ms. Koop said her goal for the students is to learn that everything is about respect.
"Every aspect of life, it all boils down to respect," she said. "Respect yourself. Respect others. Respect your school."
Ms. Barbieri said it is important for students to make a decision to not do drugs before they are faced with the issue.
If students make these decisions together, they can draw encouragement from each other when the issue comes up, she said.
"It's a lot easier to do the right thing if you have a group of friends that have agreed to do the right thing," Ms. Barbieri said. "That is kids deciding to be healthy and stay healthy and do those things that are going to help them be successful in peer groups."
Lucas, a chocolate Labrador retriever, is one of the dogs from Interquest Detection Canines who are trained to detect drugs, alcohol and gun powder. (Shannon Wilson/Staff)