Costa Mesa rehab implements canine drug-detection program

You can tell something is on Jack’s mind. The 18-month-old Labrador retriever seems particularly interested in the bottom right dresser drawer. After a few more passes, he nudges the drawer and adamantly sits down, looking with great interest at the man holding his leash. No sooner, Jack gets the reward: a dirty, slobbery tennis ball. Inside the drawer sits a plastic bag with marijuana residue inside of it.

“He’s an amazing dog,” said James Cocco, one of Jack’s handlers and the communications director at Solid Landings Behavioral Health in Costa Mesa, Calif. “His ability to find hidden drugs is pretty remarkable. If there are drugs hidden in a room, he will find them. But we aren’t doing this to punitive. This is only to add an additional layer of protection for our clients that truly want to be sober.”

 Solid Landings’ newly created Canine-Assisted Client Safety Program (CACSP), which is one of the first of its kind in the country, was conceived to simply help clients struggling with their addictions live in a drug-free environment. While most of Solid Landings' clients embrace a drug-free lifestyle when they enter treatment, the reality is that occasionally some clients are more hesitant to let go of that lifestyle.

"I wish we could say that narcotics never make their way into our properties here at Solid Landings," Cocco said. "But the reality is, our clients are battling a very formidable foe in the form of addiction. Letting go and living a drug-free lifestyle isn't always easy. Our canine program was created to help our clients live in a safe, drug-free setting."

But the folks at Solid Landings are quick to point out that the program is in no way meant to intimidate or make their clients uncomfortable. In fact, according to Cocco, the company chose Jack because of his friendly and affable personality. 

 “Jack is an advocate. To some people, the appearance of a drug-detecting dog may be seen as intimidating or something to fear,” said Tim Arrigo, Jack’s primary handler. “This is not the case with Jack. First and foremost, he is a friend to everyone around him. Jack’s intention is not to instill fear but, rather, to hopefully prevent the possession and use of narcotics through his presence. His ability to detect contraband is unparalleled. Solid Landings achieves success through the safety and security of its residents. With Jack’s aid, we increase client care by maintaining a healthy and drug-free environment.”

 According to the owners of Solid Landings, which is one of the largest privately owned substance-abuse facilities in the United States and was recently named the fastest-growing company in Orange County for 2015, the decision to add the program wasn’t a hard decision to make.

 “It’s no secret that the reason we have grown so much in the last two years is because of our commitment to premium client care,” said Steve Fennelly, CEO and one of the company’s co-founders. “The entire premise of the canine program revolves around providing the safest environment possible for our clients. We take our clients’ safety very seriously, so adding an additional layer of security made perfect sense.”

 Jack comes from one of the top bloodlines in all of Europe and falls into a category of dogs that comprises less than 1 percent of all canines — which means he has the intelligence and motivation to be a DEA-certified detection dog, according to his trainer, Andy Falco, of Falco K-9 Academy in Yorba Linda. Falco trained Jack for countless hours before he was given over to Solid Landings.

 “It’s funny, when you take him to the dog park, he is just a typical goofy, Lab looking to please humans,” said Cocco. “But when you put that vest on him and take him on a search, he turns into this hyper-focused working dog. It's quite a sight.”

Contact Information
James Cocco, Director of Communications, Solid Landings Behavioral Health