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Richmond startup provides assist for substance abuse with sniffer canine

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A Marine veteran and former Henrico County police officer is beginning a brand new native enterprise that is designed to supply discretion for households, companies and colleges seeking to get assist for folks with drug addictions.

Strategic Canine Group is a personal drug detection service based within the Richmond space. Jeff Ruark is the proprietor and lead handler for the startup that’s seeking to merge its privateness with training and prevention efforts.







Marine veteran and former Henrico County police officer Jeff Ruark, photographed right here along with his narcotics canine, Bonnie, is getting a personal drug detection service off the bottom. Strategic Canine Group can do K9 sweeps with out having to contain regulation enforcement.


photographs by Eva Russo/times-dispatch



Ruark and his canine counterpart, Bonnie, could be employed to seek for narcotics in such locations as houses, non-public companies, non-public colleges or occasions. The 2 had been previously a K9 unit pair with Henrico, the place they labored for about six years. In her police profession, Bonnie had near 1,000 utilizations with virtually 400 narcotics finds.

She was in the end retired from service after Virginia modified its marijuana legal guidelines in 2021. Bonnie was skilled to search out the substance, together with medication like heroin and methamphetamine. After pot was legalized, she may now not be used for searches, Ruark mentioned.

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Marine veteran and former Henrico police officer Jeff Ruark runs Strategic Canine Group, a personal drug detection service based within the Richmond space that does k-9 sweeps with out having to contain regulation enforcement. Right here, Ruark demonstrates how he trains his narcotics canine Bonnie to search out coaching aids infused with the scent of various medication throughout an illustration of her course of at Cheswick Park, in Henrico, Va. on Tuesday, October 25, 2022. EVA RUSSO/TIMES-DISPATCH


Eva Russo



At 9 years outdated, the shepherd combine with a excessive looking drive continues to be a succesful search canine.

Personal providers for police-trained canines first began opening across the early 2010s.

Since then, a number of companies of this sort have popped up throughout the nation with canines skilled to seek for medication, firearms and explosives.

Ruark has firsthand expertise with the value of drug dependancy. I’ve served two fight excursions in Iraq, reaching the rank of sergeant.

At the least 15 of the folks have served with confronted overdoses or drug addictions, he mentioned. He additionally has a familial reference to opioid abuse.

“It is a downside in every single place,” Ruark mentioned. “The place I grew up [in Michigan], I noticed the devastation of heroin dependancy. I’ve an prolonged household who’ve handled it. I’ve seen folks with all of the potential on this planet get addicted and wrestle with this.”







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Marine veteran and former Henrico police officer Jeff Ruark runs Strategic Canine Group, a personal drug detection service based within the Richmond space that does k-9 sweeps with out having to contain regulation enforcement. Right here, Ruark is seen along with his narcotics canine Bonnie at Cheswick Park, in Henrico, Va. on Tuesday, October 25, 2022. EVA RUSSO/TIMES-DISPATCH


Eva Russo


Whereas the corporate continues to be a startup, Ruark is working to get Strategic Canine Group concerned with a community of nonprofits with focuses on drug abuse counseling and prevention to offer purchasers a restoration choice in the event that they resolve they want it.

“As a substitute of the police coming in and saying ‘we’ll dictate the state of affairs,’ I need to have the ability to join folks with nonprofits and personal organizations,” Ruark mentioned.

Privateness is without doubt one of the largest strengths for an organization like Strategic Canine Group. Ruark doesn’t report narcotics finds to police. He isn’t permitted to take away any objects from the houses, colleges or companies that he searches.

The one time data could be shared is that if the corporate was served a subpoena by a choose or regulation enforcement.

Pricing requires a session and relies on sq. footage.

Sometimes, residential areas would command a barely larger payment per sq. foot due to the intimate nature of the house versus a college or a enterprise. An space that is 2,500 sq. toes usually takes about an hour to go looking.







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Marine veteran and former Henrico police officer Jeff Ruark runs Strategic Canine Group, a personal drug detection service based within the Richmond space that does k-9 sweeps with out having to contain regulation enforcement. Right here, Ruark is seen along with his narcotics canine Bonnie at Cheswick Park, in Henrico, Va. on Tuesday, October 25, 2022. EVA RUSSO/TIMES-DISPATCH


Eva Russo


The thought for beginning the corporate got here after Ruark and his household had been affected by a spate of private tragedies.

Ruark bought a misery name from his spouse, Ashley, early in 2021. She instructed him she was driving herself to the hospital as a result of she thought she was having a medical emergency that felt like a panic assault. Ashley ended up shedding consciousness and colliding with a tree. She was left with head trauma, a whole leg in a solid and several other different damaged bones. Ruark took about 5 weeks off work to look after his spouse whereas she recovered.

He mentioned the break made him need a profession path that gave him extra time together with her and his son. He returned to being a patrol officer after Bonnie was retired from service. Ruark mentioned he was searching for a promotion and did not wish to begin with a brand new canine if he might need to go away the sector. However after the accident, I’ve determined to take Bonnie into his new enterprise from him.

“I might heard that folks had been doing this, and I thought of it. I nonetheless had Bonnie and had six years of expertise doing it,” Ruark mentioned. “The thought was already floating round in my thoughts.”

Ashley is a graphic designer by commerce and helped with a few of the firm’s branding. Its emblem is an adaptation of an image taken of Bonnie.

Whereas the enterprise is simply opening to consultations, when requested in regards to the future, Ruark mentioned he hopes it might probably develop right into a one-stop store to seize the entire sides of drug abuse.

“I might like to have a large canine facility. I might like to have a detection division, an training division and a prevention division. I might like to have counselors on employees,” Ruark mentioned.

That features hiring former narcotics consultants and offering a path for veterans leaving the navy. As a veteran, Ruark mentioned the toughest a part of returning to civilian life is the necessity for a brand new mission. I’ve focused an preliminary objective of hiring about 15 staff.

“I’d love to have the ability to present a possibility for transitioning veterans to have a brand new mission,” Ruark mentioned. “That is one of many huge issues I’ve actually thought of is giving any person that subsequent mission. You may nonetheless assist your neighborhood.”

Initially, he is simply centered on getting the enterprise off the bottom and serving to a few of the households in the neighborhood.

“I wish to concentrate on excellence and the service that we offer in the beginning,” Ruark mentioned. “I wish to assist folks and I believe after you discuss to oldsters, if you happen to’ve talked to individuals who have lived this, it simply reinforces what I’ve had in my thoughts from the get-go.”

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