Commentary: O.K. Carter: Your safety could depend on the sensitivity of a dog’s nose

O.K. Carter


Interquest Detection Canines of North Texas

900 Walnut Creek

Mansfield, Texas76063

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Brenda Hayes’s dog-based dope-sniffing, booze-detecting, gun-finding enterprise is a complex business that sprawls across 40 North Texas counties from Texarkana to Abilene, but she’s quick to point out the first critical consideration:

Find the right dog. Or in this case, dogs.

The company is Mansfield-based Interquest Detection Canines of North Texas, which deals primarily with school districts. Or, frequently they show up at highly-attended popular event, like the Cotton Bowl. Which means using the kind of aggressive dogs typically required for police or military work just won’t do.

Hayes is CEO of the 20-year-old business, which she owns with her husband, former Justice of the Peace Matt Hayes.

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But about those dogs …

“We’re always looking for detection candidates that are toy crazy – okay, obsessive – and super friendly and social in all settings,” Brenda Hayes said.

“You’ve seen the type,” Matt Hayes said. “No matter how long you throw the toy, they keep bringing it back.”

The polite description of such a dog is “high energy level.” Most would just call it “hyper.”

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That’s step one, he said.

Step two is to hide the toy and see if the dog will sniff it out quickly. Again, and again. If it does, it might just be a winner.

“Most of our dogs are rescue or shelter dogs that are hard to place in pet homes,” Brenda Hayes said. “They may be hunting dogs that are too energetic in the blind or have too hard a mouth for bird hunting. For our purposes, the less training they have, the better.”

Interquest dogs are varied in breed – but not talent – and mostly in the 40- to 80-pound range.

The Hayes started the business two decades ago when Matt Hayes – an MBA holder and former Marines captain – left his corporate job. That created a question. What next?

“We talked about it – prayed about it – and we both came up with the same idea that reflected one of our interests – contraband detecting dogs,” said Brenda Hayes, who also holds a master’s degree in social services.

The idea took off.

Starting with just two dogs, they now employ 11 people, nine contraband dogs and two explosive dogs.

Their list of clients includes 150 school districts and private schools, and events like the Cotton Bowl, along with events and workplaces of Lockheed Martin, Anheuser-Busch, Microsoft and other corporations.

The litany of items the dogs can detect is long – marijuana, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, alcoholic beverages, commonly abused medications, gunpowder or other explosives, ammunition and firearms. All the dogs and their handlers are certified. Because the dogs are friendly, lockdowns are not required.

“Just the fact that people know the dogs will be showing up unannounced prevents a lot of people from bringing contraband to schools, the workplace or events,” Brenda Hayes said. “Though there are always a few to try.”

The dogs have found contraband wrapped and hidden in all kinds of places, everything from cars in parking lots to hidden in boots, she says. The dogs are trained to produce a final passive response by sitting when they detect a trained odor.

This ensures they will not damage property – or contaminate evidence.

Though dogs, like people, have differing abilities to detect smells – breeds and level of ability differ – a dog’s sense of smell can be 100,000 times better than a human, which gives them the ability to detect tiny amounts of smell from considerable distance. A human nose contains about 6 million smell receptors. Our canine friends can have up to 300 million.

Though the dogs are unaggressive, they also have critical protective instincts.

“In one recent case a dog kept getting between a student and the car he was edging toward,” Brenda said. “When the car was searched, it contained a firearm.”

“There’s not much we or the dogs haven’t seen tried,” Brenda Hayes said.

O.K. Carter is a former editor and publisher of the Arlington Citizen-Journal and was also Arlington publisher and columnist for the Star-Telegram and founding editor of Arlington Today Magazine. He’s the author of the definitive book on Arlington’s colorful history, Caddos, Cotton and Cowboys: Essays on Arlington.