New safety dog introduced to Stevenson, trained to detect prohibited substances

Cindy Yao, Managing Editor of Production


There’s a bear roaming around Stevenson High School— but there’s nothing to be afraid of.  Bear is Stevenson’s new safety dog, and he gets his name from his big paws.

Bear is a five year old Golden Retriever who began working at Stevenson this school year. He comes with handler Glenn VadeBonCoeur on randomly selected days throughout the year to detect prohibited items such as illegal drugs and gun powder based items.

According to Cristina Cortesi, Substance Abuse Prevention Coordinator, the main purpose of having Bear around isn’t to catch anyone. Instead, Cortesi hopes that having a dog will reinforce Stevenson’s policy towards prohibited items on school grounds.

“It creates a safe environment,” Cortesi said. “If people see a safety dog, they’ll think, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t bring that to school.’”

In addition, safety dogs add a personal touch to the fight against impairing and intoxicating substances, according to dean Nicholas Valenziano.  Bear is a friendly dog that students are hopefully comfortable with because they know he is here to keep them safe, Valenziano said.

When he’s not searching parking lots or lockers, Bear comes in for presentations and clubs. He also makes appearances at other various locations throughout Illinois

“When Bear is here, we love it if people get to know him,” Cortesi said.  “He can’t [be] pet because he’s working, but he likes when people acknowledge him and call his name.”

Bear was initially trained in Michigan for approximately 12 weeks before being assigned to an office in Michigan.  After over two years of working there, he was then assigned to a Chicago office.

The training process is somewhat like a hide and seek game, said VadeBonCoeur.  A dog will first fetch a toy; then, the toy will be hidden so the dog will have to use its other senses to try to find it. The trainer will finally take the toy and put an odor on it for the dog to detect.

“Once [the dog] finds the smell of the toy and we reward them, they suddenly have a lightbulb moment,” VadeBonCoeur said. The dogs in the program also go through obedience training.

Although Bear is a Golden Retriever, any breed of dog can be used. “When we train, we look for dogs that have a strong play drive,” VadeBonCoeur said. “The dog will then channel that fixation into doing what we want them to do.”

For example, dogs with a strong play drive will play fetch continuously with enthusiasm and energy each time a toy is thrown.

However, to some, the idea of having a safety dog around might seem alarming.

“Sometimes you see a police dog that might seem aggressive, but [Bear is] very friendly,” Cortesi said. “There’s an impression that bringing in a dog is like saying to the community that we have a problem. We’re just saying that we want to keep the community safe.”

When he’s not working, Bear lives at home with VadeBonCoeur. But, because of his job, Bear has higher expectations at home compared to most dogs. This means no barking at the mailman and no mooching food off the table, according to VanBonCoeur.

Bear is the successor to previous safety dog Goldie, who passed away this summer. While many may miss Goldie, Bear has the same skill set to help keep the community safe or something like that.

“Everyone loves to see a dog,” Cortesi said. “It’s a prevention strategy that puts a smile on people’s faces.”