Sometimes kids make mistakes, and sometimes the working golden retrievers of Wonder Woofs can reduce the cost of those youthful mistakes. Sean Haggett, owner of Wonder Woofs and his canine partners, help youth by sniffing out drugs and firearms often avoiding law enforcement involvement. The dogs also provide comfort to students who are struggling emotionally.
Wonder Woofs is a privately owned company that works in collaboration with schools, families, and businesses to discreetly conduct drug, alcohol, and gunpowder detection searches. It is not affiliated with law enforcement agencies and very rarely notifies the police, court systems or department of social services of its findings.
Haggett told BenitoLink that he comes into the schools without a gun or a badge and not with a police K-9 such as a German shepherd or similar breed. Instead he arrives with a golden retriever. He believes this is much less intimidating for students. Since he is not with law enforcement, he cannot search students or their belongings; he can only talk to the students and advise faculty.
Haggett’s current canine workers at Wonder Woofs are safety dog Red, comfort dog and former safety dog Sapphire and therapy dog Ugi.
What do the dogs do?
Ugi is a therapy dog working with the Life Skills students at Hollister High School who, Haggett said, love him. “When you have autism and you are inside yourself, it is a worrying situation. The dog has been a bridge—a beautiful bridge that has been built to reach them.”
Haggett said Ugi will seek out a student who is anxious and stay with the student as needed.
Sapphire is a comfort dog who often works at Maze Middle School in the counselors’ office. She is often in the office for up to two hours so that students with emotional problems can have privacy with Sapphire providing comfort.
Red, who was just a few months old in 2020 when COVID-19 shut down the schools, is now a trained safety dog. According to Haggett, he learned most of his skills by watching Ranger, who at 13 is now retired. When Red smells drugs, firearms or ammunition he barks, at which point Haggett alerts school personnel. Red can smell even light contact—for example, if a student has touched a gun earlier in the day and has then touched a desk, chair or object, Red will signal the smell.
The dogs are trained by Haggett and his wife, Janelle, though he credits her for most of the training, and the dogs are certified by Luther Evans at Evolution Dog Training Center in Atwater. Evans has certified military, police and private sector dogs for 70 years.
Evans told BenitoLink he has been working with the Haggetts for close to 10 years and said when he first met and tested Sparks and Ranger they found every piece of contraband he had planted. He added that Sean and Janelle were instructed on how to read the dogs after they found something. Dogs will either rip something apart, bark or stop working and sit.
Wonder Woofs work for the Hollister School District, San Andreas High School, Hollister High School and other schools in the county: they also contract with Pacific Grove School District in Monterey County, St. Francis Prep in Watsonville and with Valley Christian campuses in Santa Clara County.
In his long career, Ranger had over 300 drug, alcohol, firearms and ammunition finds.
Red in his two-year career, has close to 100 finds. When drugs or alcohol are found the school has discretion. When firearms or ammunition are found, law enforcement is called. However, often the smell of firearms in a car is most often a legal situation such as a family hunting trip.
Keith Thorbahn, Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services with the San Benito County Office of Education explained how Haggett first introduces some of the students to the dogs saying that coming in without wearing a vest, the dogs can interact with the students as more of a pet. However, when the safety dogs are vested students cannot engage with them. This way the students feel less intimidated.
Thorbahn said the county is lucky to have Haggett and the dogs. He said, “We are very proud to partner with Wonder Woofs. They value and promote safety.”
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