From left, Sgt. Thomas Chabot and Worcester County Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis
share a moment with K-9 Nikita in this January file photo.
News Staff Writer
Ashburnham – A narcotics dog at the Worcester County Sheriff’s Department is about to get his moment in the spotlight.
Nikita, a 11/2-year-old Labrador-Terrier mix, was donated to the sheriff’s department from the Sterling Animal Shelter. He currently lives with his handler, Sgt. Thomas Chabot, in Ashburnham.
Worcester County Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis had a few options for replacing K-9s on the force who were retiring. He became aware that many newer drug-sniffing dogs in the area are also shelter dogs.
“I’ve personally adopted two shelter dogs, so for me, it was a good choice,” he said. “I had Sgt. Chabot go down to the Sterling Animal Shelter and look at all the candidates, and the second dog he saw was Nikita. He had all of the attributes we needed.”
Nikita provides a deterrent, since he is so well-trained he can sniff out narcotics with little scent, such as prescription drugs. That is a current focus for the sheriff’s department.
“He has found everything from heroin to Subocoxone,” said Mr. Evangelidis. “We can run him up and down the cell blocks as well as the mail room, and he can find anything.”
The sheriff said Nikita’s size is a unique and beneficial factor for the department.
“He’s not the usual big dog,” he said. “He is so small, so he can do things that other narcotics dogs cannot. When we have a motor vehicle search, he can get right under the seats and we can lift him into the trunk. He’s very versatile.”
Mr. Evangelidis said Nikita has been a great addition to the team.
“We are so pleased with his work,” he said. “You expect to see some big German Shepherd, but Nikita is smaller and more maneuverable. He’s not meant to scare people.”
Sgt. Chabot, Nikita’s handler, said he is a great dog, both at home and at work.
“He’s pretty much the same (at home and at work),” said Sgt. Chabot. “He’s always calm and there really are no boundaries. If he’s up on the counter at home, I can’t tell him to get down because that’s what he does for work.”
The 26-pound dog, who is just about full-grown, has another friend at home as well.
“I have been in the K-9 unit for about six years,” said Sgt. Chabot. “I kept my retired dog and was next in line for another.”
Sgt. Chabot chose to keep his retired dog because he feels a personal responsibility to the animals after they retire.
“My last dog put his life on the line for me,” he said. “You have this bond, and for me, I personally feel responsible to give him a place to retire and let him enjoy retirement.”
As for whether or not a dog like Nikita or a German Shepherd is better for the job, Sgt. Chabot said they really do not compare.
“They both have their purpose,” he said. “They both perform differently, but do what they do effectively.”
Sgt. Chabot said working with Nikita was different than working with the German Shepherd, but said it was an easy transition.
“He’s a passive-alert dog,” he said. “When he finds drugs, he sits down and scratches his nose, rather than scratching and barking.”
After hearing about Nikita and his second chance at life, Steven Latham, the producer, director and creator of the PBS series “Shelter Me,” contacted the sheriff’s department.
“I was doing some research online and came across a news article about Nikita,” said Mr. Latham. “The more I dug into the story, the more I realized I found my story and the characters that I wanted to tell my story. For ‘Shelter Me,’ this is the perfect story.”
Mr. Latham, who has three shelter dogs of his own, created the series to shine a positive light on shelter pets.
“What ‘Shelter Me’ focuses on is the joy of animals from shelters,” he said. “I’ve just heard so many negative stories with shelters and the animals, and that just wasn’t my experience at all.”
The episode of “Shelter Me” focusing on Nikita will be the fourth in the series. Two episodes have already aired, and the third will air in February.
Filming for the episode began Thursday and will continue through Saturday. Filming locations for the show include Sutton High School, the Sterling Animal Shelter, the sheriff’s department, the Community Corrections Center in Worcester, the Plymouth County Sheriff’s Department, the Worcester County Jail and House of Correction and Sgt. Chabot’s home in Ashburnham.
“This is much more than a show,” said Mr. Latham. “The action portion of the project is so important. Providing the public with ways they can help is just as important as telling the story.”
Mr. Latham said many do not realize all the ways in which they can help local shelters without adopting a pet, noting that people can volunteer their time and donate items such as medications, blankets and shampoos.
“People need to realize what they can do,” he said. “People should take pride in their local shelters. Shelters are where families are made.”
As a result of the “Shelter Me” series, Mr. Latham created a website, Shelterme.com, as a way to connect shelter animals with new homes. Currently, the site’s services are only available on the West Coast, but it will soon go nationwide.
The site serves a social media network for shelter pets. Users can go to their local shelters, play with the animals and make a video profile to help them have a better chance of being adopted.
“We’ve seen a huge increase in adoptions already just in Los Angeles,” said Mr. Latham. “Just that act of kindness helps give these animals a chance at a new home.”
Nikita’s episode of “Shelter Me” will air across the country in May 2014.