Yogi, a highly trained drug-detection dog, shows how the private sector can help tackle America’s substance abuse epidemic.
Hamilton native Paul Tessein, who founded the Recovery Advocates of America nonprofit organization several years ago, has now entered into business with his new best friend, Yogi the K-9 German shepherd.
The tag-team duo of Tessein and Yogi officially began conducting narcotic sweeps in October under their new service company, Drug Sweeper. “It’s been great,” Tessein said in a recent interview with The Trentonian. “I get to work with a dog every day.”
Drug Sweeper combines Tessein’s knowledge and experience with substance abuse intervention with Yogi’s ability to find illicit drugs. The company is a private, non-law-enforcement service designed to meet the needs of parents or businesses that may want a drug search conducted on their property without contacting 9-1-1.
“If law-enforcement goes in with a K-9, they have to prosecute,” Tessein said. “If Drug Sweeper goes in with a K-9, there’s no prosecution involved, but the other part of it is that I can deal with the problem better than anybody because I’ve done (interventions) for over 26 years.”
“For instance, if a private resident calls me up and says, ‘Hey, I think my kid is doing drugs, but I am not sure.’ I can go in with the dog, sweep the house; if I detect something, I can deal with the problem,” Tessein said.
But what happens with the illicit drugs if Yogi finds any? Do the drugs need to be turned over to police for proper disposal?
“I’m not bound to, but one of the things I’ll do is the homeowner or whoever, I will explain to them how to get rid of them properly,” Tessein said. “It’s detection first, and if there is something detected and the family wants me to proceed, we could proceed with the intervention process. The other piece that I am doing is field testing.”
Yogi is trained to detect numerous drugs, according to Tessein, who said he has the ability to test for over 37 different substances that Yogi may discover, including fentanyl.
“The way I designed this thing, I feel like I’ve got every missing piece in terms of helping families, helping businesses, helping treatment centers in South Florida, halfway houses in Florida, here, wherever,” Tessein said. “I already did a few jobs while I was up here.”
A Hamilton native, Tessein has long been involved in efforts to combat the disease known as addiction and substance abuse. He founded Recovery Advocates of America several years ago and later stepped down from that organization to run a treatment center in Florida, where he currently lives.
Tessein visited his old stomping grounds in New Jersey earlier this month, where he did a Drug Sweeper demonstration with Yogi at the Burlington County Fairgrounds and also conducted a full-fledged sweep at a South Jersey halfway house that requested his service, he said.
“We probably prevented a disaster from happening,” Tessein said of the recent sweep, “because the dog went in and indicated. But the crazy thing was right before the search started, the person seen the dog show up and he took what he had in his room out. But the dog still indicated on the dead scent. The particular person came clean with the halfway house owner.”
“The dog is extremely talented,” Tessein said. “He’s not going to sit down unless there’s something there or there was something there.”
“I actually spent eight months in school down in Palm Beach County, Florida, where the dog and I both went,” he added, “because not only did I have to get the dog certified, but I had to get certified to meet national standards as well. It was a lot of fun, man.”
The heroin and prescription drug overdose epidemic motivated Tessein to take his intervention efforts to the next level. “I’m tired of seeing people dying,” he said. “I’ve been sober a very long time. I’ve helped a lot of people. … I’m not looking to be rich — of course, I want to make a living — but the main purpose is to be there and help people.”
Drug Sweeper has mainly done work in Florida since the company went into operation in October, but Tessein has a recreational vehicle and the willingness, desire and ability to travel up and down the East Coast if Americans outside the Sunshine State want to pay for his services.
Costs start at $200 for the typical residential customer who seeks Drug Sweeper’s service, Tessein said, adding, “For the peace of mind, it’s worth it.”
Hamilton resident John Hulick, who formerly served as Gov. Chris Christie’s drug czar, described Tessein’s Drug Sweeper firm as a “new and unique service” and said he was “excited” upon learning about it.
“I wanted to create something that nobody has done,” Tessein said. “There’s dog teams out there, but they are dog teams. They are not doing what I can do in terms of the intervention and just my knowledge in the industry over all these years.”
Anyone interested in calling Drug Sweeper for service can contact the company at 1-833-K9-SWEEP (597-9337) or get further info at drugsweeper.com.