Meet the Black Lab Who Helps Recovering Addicts
When new residents arrive at Loft 107, a sober-living facility in Brooklyn, they’re greeted by founder Joe Schrank and a friendly black Labrador Retriever named Mik. But Mik’s not just the welcome wagon; he’s a narcotics detection dog whose job is to make sure residents stay in recovery while they’re at Loft 107, and even after they leave.
A Perfect Match
Schrank had long explored bringing a dog like Mik to the facility but was wary because of the possible narcotics detection connotation. “The idea is intimidating. People immediately think 'law enforcement,'” says Schrank. “But (Mik's) not looking to ‘catch’ anyone or call the police. He’s there to help.”
But Schrank also knew that a dog could help him make definitive calls about the presence (or absence) of drugs; an invaluable benefit to the Loft, which serves as a temporary place to stay for people who have already been in rehab but aren’t yet comfortable returning to their normal lives.
So, he contacted Worldwide Canine Inc., an organization that specializes in the training and utilization of professional working dogs, including police dogs for patrol, detection and tracking. After he was fully vetted by Worldwide Canines, Schrank was matched with 6-year-old Mik, whose duty as a police narcotics dog had come to an end. Mik offered the perfect experience and skills for Schrank and his team.
One important mandate was that Schrank would receive proper training on how to handle Mik in this unique environment, which he did through a local police officer. “We tried all kinds of things with Mik during training,” says Schrank. “I put the drugs in a safe, wrapped them in foil, everything. He got them every time.”
Keeping It Clean at the Center
Mik’s most critical job is to keep the Loft 107 facility drug-free and safe. The 7,000-square-foot warehouse loft is home to 17 residents and hosts a variety of sessions and events. “We have outpatients and residents coming in and out of the center every day. Anyone could bring in anything,” says Schrank.
While most of the people involved in the center are motivated to change their lives, some aren’t, says Schrank. Mik provides a safety measure to ensure the center stays clean.
With Mik on staff, Schrank and his team no longer need to go through people’s things when they enter the facility. With a few quick sniffs, Mik can detect the presence of drugs right away. “He’s way more thorough than we could ever be,” says Schrank.
For new residents and their families, the dog’s presence brings a sense of relief and proof that the center means business when it comes to staying drug-free. “The great gift Mik gives people is peace of mind,” explains Schrank.
Keeping It Clean at Home
That peace of mind doesn’t end once someone leaves the facility. Schrank and Mik help set their departing residents up for success. Before the resident returns to his or her home, the pair goes through the space to make sure there are no leftover, forgotten drugs the recovering addict might stumble upon. “We want to make sure that wherever they are returning to is safe,” explains Schrank.
Then, the center offers Mik's ongoing services to perform periodic checks. “We’ll randomly bring Mik over to make sure things are still clean,” says Schrank. This service is particularly helpful to families, adds Schrank. Bringing Mik through the house and finding nothing brings a lot of relief to loved ones.
No Doubt Interventions
Schrank says he’s often called on for interventions, and Mik is an invaluable asset in these situations. Schrank explains that a family member may call him because they suspect drug use in their home. But they are often in denial, so they end up trying to talk themselves out of meeting with Schrank. “So I tell them I’ll bring Mik over to go through the house, and then we’ll know for sure,” Schrank says.
Mik provides proof, says Schrank. “Most of the time, we know they are using before we find the drugs. The reason for the dog is so we don’t have to argue about it. He’s never, ever wrong. He either smells it or he doesn’t.”
And when he does, it’s time for the family to face reality.
“We are always clear with people that we do have dogs in treatment,” Schrank says. The dogs’ calming, accepting presence is welcome to most residents and outpatients in the program. “Something about their energy is therapeutic, even in a clinical setting,” he explains.
Each dog brings something different to the environment. Mik’s lively presence is mascot-like, says Schrank. Churchill attends most group sessions, either sitting on the couch or snoozing nearby. “The snoring can get disruptive,” Schrank says with a laugh. Luci, who's a little shy, is often quietly supportive from afar.
All three canines offer judgment-free friendship. People in recovery may feel alienated from their family, so they’re shut down, Schrank explains. But a dog’s acceptance can be a new starting place for some people. “The dog’s not mad at you,” Schrank says. “The Bulldog doesn’t hate you. We start with that.”
Mik’s presence has been game-changing for Schrank and his work in many ways: “If I could, I would have 10 dogs. They are so valuable in this arena."