WHITE SETTLEMENT, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) - For years, dogs have detected drugs, explosives and even cancer.
Now, White Settlement ISD is the first school district in Texas and possibly the U.S. to use a dog to sniff out guns and ammunition.
David Bitters, an assistant superintendent, says the dog being used, a Beagle named Chester, works in a similar way to the dogs that search the students' backpacks for drugs.
"It's not intrusive. They don't feel threatened with it. They know this is a normal part of the day. And if you come into our schools and you have something you shouldn't, you're going to be at risk because we're looking for that."
Linda Konrad runs the non-profit organization Good Canine Academy, which just this year started training dogs to spot guns and ammunition.
For years, she's trained comfort dogs and service dogs, and she's one of only 30 in the world nationally certified to train dogs to detect cancer. "With the dogs, they have 300 million receptors in their noses. They can determine all of this.
Gun powder has three ingredients, so when you have millions compared to three, it's very easy for dogs to pick up on that."
Bitters admits when he and other administrators first heard about the idea of using dogs to find guns and ammunition, they didn't think much of it.
But after the deadly shooting at the high school in Santa Fe, Texas last spring, he says they changed their minds.
Konrad says she is working with state Representatives and the Governor's office and hopes the pilot program spreads statewide.
She says it gives schools an alternative to arming teachers.
Other Texas school districts have already called her expressing an interest.
Because this is a pilot program, White Settlement isn't having to pay for it this year, but administrators believe it's well worth the cost.
If Chester alerts on a backpack and finds gun powder, Konrad says it may not necessarily mean the student is armed and dangerous. "Maybe they were dove hunting that weekend, maybe they go shooting."
Bitters says this is not meant to be a "gotcha" program, but a deterrent. "Our focus is an illegal weapons that came into our school and to give our kids the excuse to say, hey, I can't be involved in that."
He says using the dog is more effective than if they started using metal detectors. "We didn't want to keep doing safety procedures the same way, and so we started looking at ways to step outside of the box.
Bitters says this program is one of a number of security enhancements this year.
They include securing all entrances to their schools and training their teachers what to look for and what to do in a crisis event.
Konrad says, "Oh, this will save lives, absolutely, it will save lives because of the preventative measure. They're going to think twice before they actually bring something to the schools and that's what we want to get across."
for more features.