THE TOP DOG: Nikita joins his partner, Lt. Thomas Chabot, at the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office on Friday afternoon. Adopted from the Sterling Animal Shelter, Nikita has been working as a drug-sniffing K9. He’ll be appearing in an upcoming episode of the PBS show “Shelter Me.”
WEST BOYLSTON — Every day, Nikita gets to work by checking the mail. He moves quickly, inspecting each letter for any unusual smells — ones that indicate the presence of drugs. And then he tells his partner, Lt. Thomas Chabot, which are suspect.
According to Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis, Nikita is one of the best in the state at sniffing out drugs.
It’s impressive, because Nikita, a Puerto Rican native, started his life homeless.
And also because he’s a dog.
But now he can add something else to his growing résumé: television star.
Nikita, adopted for free from Animal Shelter Inc. of Sterling, is featured in an episode of “Shelter Me: Partners for Life,” a PBS series hosted by Jon Hamm that depicts and celebrates shelter pets.
“They’re the real deal,” Evangelidis said of the show. “They brought a huge film crew out for three days and filmed our department and really followed Tom (Chabot) around 24/7.”
Kim Roy, Evangelidis’ director of external affairs, got a call about two months ago that PBS picked up the episode.
FOUR LEGS ON DUTY: Nikita, a dog adopted from the Sterling Animal Shelter, walks with his partner, Lt. Tom Chabot, of Ashburnham, at the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office on Friday. Nikita will be appearing in an upcoming episode of the PBS show “Shelter Me.”
“We really feel honored and proud,” she said.
She said the episode focused on Chabot and Nikita checking the mail, visiting a community corrections center in Worcester, greeting kids at Sutton Memorial High School, and back to the animal shelter in Sterling.
“He made the rounds,” she said.
Evangelidis said it was clear during the Sept. 29 Hollywood premiere that Nikita was the star of the show.
And he seemed to know it, too. When the dog saw himself on-screen, he started barking, as if on-cue.
He’s also great for community relations, Evangelidis said. He’s smaller than what many people think of as a typical police dog — a German shepherd, for instance — and so he’s approachable, thereby making Chabot approachable.
“It starts a positive conversation,” Evangelidis said.
Nikita, a sato, Puerto Rican slang for a mixed-breed dog, is just as effective as any other police dog, Evangelidis and Chabot said.
“He’s trained how to work, and he knows he’s going to work” when the collar comes on, Chabot said.
As an example, Chabot said a person, if walking into a McDonald’s, would smell hamburgers, grease and fries. But Nikita would smell everything separately: the onions, the pickles, the meat, mustard, ketchup.
That’s how he detects the drugs, he said.
“He breaks it all down until he finds an odor that he gets rewarded from. It’s really repetition for him,” Chabot said, who added he gives Nikita food when he successfully finds drugs.
Evangelidis said having Nikita has been a big help with their “ongoing, vigilant battle” with people trying to smuggle drugs into correctional facilities. Also, since getting him, people have taken the hint: numbers of positive drug identifications have dropped.
“He does a lot for us,” he said.
And Chabot said he loves working with Nikita.
“In this line of work, there’s very few people who get to do this,” he said. “It’s just such a unique aspect of corrections law enforcement. I feel privileged for him to be the ambassador for this story.”
Added Chabot: “I’m honored to work with him. It’s something different every day for him.”
On Oct. 20, Worcester’s Hanover Theatre will host the local premiere of their episode of “Shelter Me,” something Evangelidis said he is excited about, because it portrays the people of Worcester County so positively.
“We were very lucky to get the Hanover Theatre,” he said.
The event– which starts with a cocktail hour at 6 p.m. before the screening at 7 p.m. — is an “open-donation event,” he said, “so you can donate anything you want.”
All proceeds benefit area animal shelters, he said.
As for Nikita, this will be his second big-time premiere. Has the stardom gone to his head? Chabot couldn’t say.
“We’ll see after this next premiere,” he said, laughing.