Safety introduces campus drug dog to curb fentanyl threat


Emma Lauren Poole

Dean, the new campus drug dog, with the head of college resource officers, Sgt. Sean Finney | Photo courtesy of Sean Finney

Fentanyl misuse has become an epidemic across the country and on college campuses over the past decade. According to the Centers for Disease Control, fentanyl, a synthetic opioid often used as a painkiller, is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. 

The alarmingly rapid increase of fentanyl incidents on college campuses has caused institutions such as Stanford University to implement resources and policies to react to the use of this substance. Florida Southern College Director of Safety and Security Eric Rauch wanted to handle the problem differently.

Learning of the increasing occurrences of fentanyl in the Lakeland community, Rauch and other leaders of the campus safety department went to FSC Administration with the idea of obtaining a preventative measure for the drug.

“We said, ‘we think that’s the direction we need to go,’” Rauch said.

This direction took the form of Dean, a one-year-old black labrador retriever. Dean was picked out from a police kennel north of Deltona, Fla., but he was born and raised in Colombia.

This year, after years of planning behind-the-scenes, the new furry friend has arrived on campus, and he has an important job: to curb the encroaching threat of fentanyl-laced drugs. Dean is the new Florida Southern College drug dog, and, according to campus safety, he is strictly a preventative measure to protect students.

Dean and his handler, Sgt. Sean Finney, are support resources for several local schools including FSC, Lakeland Christian Academy, Magnolia Montessori School, New Beginnings High School, and Parkway Christian Academy.

Dean was paid for by an anonymous donor.

“It did not cost the college any money,” Rauch said. “A gentleman that is a longtime Lakeland resident and very much loves Florida Southern did not want to see funding get in the way of us doing something that would be really, really good for our community.”

“The investment that our donor made into Florida Southern and this program,” Finney said, “we saw it as a way to put safety before any enforcement.”

So, in April, Finney and Rauch picked out Dean. Now on campus, he’s been familiarizing himself with the new environment.

Being on campus has taught Dean a lot about socializing, an experience that he didn’t have prior to coming to FSC.

“As Dean is learning how to socialize with the students, staff and faculty on campus, he’s learning his environment,” Finney said. “He’s going to become more comfortable and work better. When it’s time to work, one word tells him to go to work.”

Before Hurricane Idalia, Finney and Dean spent time together walking around campus every day, for upwards of two miles per day.

Finney can already see the positive impact that being on campus has had on Dean’s social skills.

“Move-in day was pretty rough for Dean, but the soccer team actually got him to break some of his coldness and wag his tail a little bit,” Finney recollected. “As we continued to go around on move-in day more and more, he became more sociable.”

Dean, of course, didn’t grow up in a social environment.

“He has no social interaction. He is a dog from Colombia,” Finney said. “His drug of choice – it’s our joke – is cocaine.”

Finney has noticed that people are often surprised to see that Dean has no obedience training.

“When he’s told to sit, he won’t sit,” Finney said. “If anyone tries to say that I made Dean sit, Dean doesn’t understand ‘sit.’ I don’t think he understands English.”

Dean’s interaction skills are something that students, faculty and staff alike can help Finney with.

“We want students to come up and say hi to Dean,” Finney said. Then, he added, “If you want to come up and say hi and you have something on you, don’t be surprised if Dean lets me know that you have something on you.”

Despite not having the best social skills, Dean is still an on-campus favorite already.

“He’s completely approachable,” Finney said. “During Blast-Off, he was probably the hit of the night. A lot of people were taking selfies with him.”

Aside from his socialization, Dean spends a lot of time training in other ways. He trains once or twice per week on average, with additional K9 unit training every two weeks for 24 hours.

“Dean’s training never stops,” Finney said. “Also, we do a lot of on-campus training.”

Dean also has a stepsister that is working at the Lakeland Police Department. Her name is Darla, and she’s a narcotics dog. She and Dean came as what Rauch calls a “package deal.”

“Unless you really look at them, you’re not going to know which one is which,” Finney said.

Dean and Darla have different ways of searching for scents. Being a male, Dean is more acutely aware of odors and searches in a very detailed way. While Darla finds odors faster than Dean, her style of searching can tend to be less thorough.

“Every dog, just like every human being, is built differently,” Finney explained. “If I bring him out right now, he’s going to be a spazz. That’s why I didn’t bring him in. He is going to be [going] 100 miles per hour, wanting to jump on everything and see what he can get into.”

Just like people, Dean and Darla share some aptitudes, but also have some different strengths and weaknesses in their searching abilities.

Dean has already gotten the chance to put his drug-sniffing skills to use on campus.

“He has been deployed, and he has been successful,” Rauch said.

“He’s very well-trained,” Finney added. “We also share him with the Lakeland Police Department, so he’s getting deployed outside of our school and has been successful there.”

Outside of his job, Dean has a normal life, too. 

“Dean is spoiled,” Finney said very bluntly. “He spends a lot of time in the air conditioning. I’ve actually been trying to break a little bit of his A/C habit.”

His favorite toy is his rope ball, he loves to eat, and he isn’t a good swimmer. He lives with the Finney family and loves to watch his canine siblings, also labrador retrievers, swim in the pool. Finney has his own business breeding labs and says Dean is very curious about the puppies in the house.

“I currently have 10 labrador puppies at home, so Dean is very inquisitive about what is going on in that side of the house,” Finney said. “[He likes] to go check [the puppies] out.”

His favorite toy also has meaning behind it.

“[The rope ball] is what I reward him with when we do work, so I think that’s what drives him,” Finney explained. “That’s what he trained with as well, so I think it takes him back to his roots.”

Finney listed all of the things that Dean has destroyed – squeaky toys and tennis balls being the main ones. 

“He dissects squeakers in squeaky toys,” Finney said.

“He eats anything,” Finney also added. “On move-in day, he decided to pull a mouse or rat out of the bushes and eat it. That’s the kind of dog labs are – they’ll eat grass, they’ll eat bugs, they’ll eat just about everything, and he’s a typical lab.”

Dean is a true labrador retriever and is motivated by food, but isn’t food-aggressive.

“He lets the six-month-old puppy we’re puppy-sitting right now take his food, because he’s that passive,” Finney said.

This docile demeanor helps Dean to be more adept in his work.

“That’s very good for a drug dog, too – he’s not aggressive and he’s not going to try to get into things,” Finney explained. “His alert is passive, too. He sits when he finds things that he’s looking for, [even if it is] Eric or Rusty hiding the ball from him in a drawer.”

Finney says that in Dean’s mind, he’s just a puppy, too.

“He’s a young dog and he’s a very happy dog,” Finney said. “He just wants to work…we expect him to only get better and better as the days go by.”

Finney and Rauch both say that Dean has been a long time coming.

“Dean was not just a ‘fly by the seat of our pants’ decision,” Finney said. “He was probably four years in the making. Fentanyl is really the reason bringing a dog in finally happened.”

Finney, who is a father of a college student, says that the lines blur between being a police officer and being a father when it comes to leading and guiding the people he interacts with to make informed and intelligent decisions. 

“I have to put two hats on – being a dad and being a cop,” Finney said. “I want everybody safe, including my own children. We may not be kin to you, but all of y’all are our babies and we have to protect you as we would protect our own families.”

“My job is to be a sheepdog,” Rauch analogized, “and to protect our flock.”

Rauch doesn’t expect there to be any more arrests than in previous years with the addition of Dean. Last year, there were 15 drug referrals and no illegal drug arrests on campus.

Rauch is often asked what kind of problem FSC has that makes having nine police officers necessary. He is proud to tell people that there is no problem – the officers are preventative. Dean was brought in for the exact same reason: to stop issues like the fentanyl epidemic before they start.

Rauch and Finney have a combined almost 60 years in law enforcement and want nothing more than to lead and guide students, becoming allies for the FSC community. Keeping up-to-date on current drug problems and being proactive is just one part of this desire.

“I’m still a deputy sheriff with our county, so every day I read what they call our ‘pass-alongs,’” Rauch said. “Every night, there was either someone dying from fentanyl or overdosing and having to be saved by Narcan.”

Two weeks ago, around Lake Hollingsworth, a fentanyl crash occurred from laced Marijuana. Luckily, there were two registered Narcan saves, but the difference between life and death for those involved could’ve been less than a minute.

“It’s happening that close to us,” Rauch said. “Common sense would tell you that it’s just a matter of time until it makes its way here.”

Fentanyl is an especially dangerous threat because of the miniscule amount that is required to be deadly.

“It takes so little to be toxic to someone,” Rauch said, referencing that the equivalent of a few grains of salt would be lethal in fentanyl form.

“We expect our students to live life and enjoy their college years,” Rauch said, “and something as innocuous as ‘hey, our friends want to smoke a joint tonight,’ can wind up being lethal now, and that’s something we’re trying to prevent.”

Despite campus safety’s best efforts, Rauch realizes that some students may find themselves in drug-related situations. He hopes that, if necessary, Dean will be able to help in these situations. He also emphasizes that there are valuable resources on campus that students should turn to, should this become an issue for them.

“Our counseling center is a wonderful resource,” Rauch said. “A lot of folks will turn to illegal narcotics as a stress relief, and what they don’t realize is that it’s not that at all – it just adds another burden or addiction that drags them down even deeper.”

Rauch also says that there is complete amnesty for students when reporting incidents to safety or calling for help – no one can get in trouble for reaching out.

“We have complete amnesty here, and in the instance of an overdose, seconds matter. Not minutes – seconds,” Rauch said. “What we don’t need is for somebody to hesitate in an overdose situation. Call safety…we are here to help. The quicker we can get to them, the quicker we can save their lives.”

Rauch expects students to say something if they see something, and that includes holding him and all the safety employees accountable, too. Rauch and Longaberger both value hearing from students as it keeps them responsible for fostering a supportive environment on campus.

“If you do see something, say something,” Rauch said, “because you don’t know what that Marijuana might have in it.”

But for now, Rauch and Finney hope that Dean never has to take reactive action to the presence of fentanyl. He’ll continue to be present on campus, and maybe someday, he will learn the command “sit.”


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