Sniffing for Safety

When Stephen Mortensen of Providence Working Canines takes one of his working canines into a school or business, he knows he is potentially saving lives. The proof is in the number of illicit drugs, pills, alcohol, and weapons his working canines find before the substances can cause injury or death to people.

Steve Mortensen with Providence Working Canines“The poor choice of one can affect the populace. Providence assists in creating a safer environment in which to work, learn and serve,” Mortensen said.

Mortensen has been working with canines since 1987. He and his wife, Julie, formed Providence in an effort to combine their love of dogs and the dog’s amazing olfactory ability—by training them to identify safety concerns in everyday settings.

Their handlers and working canines are hired to work in all types of settings, including schools, oil and gas industry, aviation, entertainment and sporting venues, commercial entities, corrections, healthcare and more—anywhere contraband may be present.

Mortensen trains the highly skilled working canines of Providence to accurately detect illicit narcotics, alcoholic beverages, commonly abused medications and firearms. Providence also deploys explosive detection canines as well. New designer and synthetic substances are always emerging, so Providence is always adapting.

“Concerning the principle of scent discrimination, it can be thought of like this: people have an olfactory lobe in their nose the size of a nickel and can tell the difference between an apple pie and a cherry pie. Dogs, however, have an olfactory lobe running from their occipital stop to the end of their muzzle and can accurately discriminate the type of flour used in both pies,” Mortensen said.

“We tap into their inherent drives and teach them to focus on certain imprinted odors. What we call work, they call play. At Providence, we are succeeding where man alone never could,” Mortensen added.

Even though disaster scenes receive high profile publicity, the Mortensen’s have built their core business upon non-invasive “Safety Sweeps” for every environment. Providence will not contract with a client who desires to “lock down” upon the arrival of the working canines. They literally train with lockers slamming and bells ringing, encouraging both students and staff to interact with the Providence pups while on campus.

“Our dogs even wear tuxedo ties while working school proms and the girls prefer having their pictures taken with our dogs over that of their ugly ol’ boyfriends!” Mortensen said.

Providence owns several German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois, however they are utilized for different applications. It is the friendly Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers and English Springer Spaniels that arrive at the learning facilities of Providence. Students see these “nice guys” as belonging to the school and welcome them warmly.

Providence Working Canines“To be certain, not every student appreciates our presence. Those making poor choices in the learning environment would prefer that the skill set of our working canines were not in their school,” Mortensen said. Poor choices come in a variety of colors. Sadly, alcohol remains the number one killer in the learning environment. Providence witnesses school districts that lay to rest students involved in DUI related deaths each academic year. “Those cars and trucks move way too fast and those trees and poles never jump out of the way,” Mortensen sadly proclaims.

Science has proven that the marijuana of the 1960’s is not the same as today. It is highly potent and addictive. Additionally, the abuse of pills in schools is nearing epidemic proportions. Mortensen shared a disturbing story where his working canine alerted on three separate backpacks in a middle school. Upon inspection, numerous prescription medications were discovered. However, none of the students were prescribed the meds. The leader among the three students shouted, “I can explain! I only stole the pretty pills from my grandma and shared them with my friends!” Mortensen cited. Mortensen explained the students poured the variety of pills in a popcorn bowl while the student danced to videos in one of the homes. As each student passed the popcorn bowl, they would take a pill and ingest it. Mortensen stated it is called a “pharm party.”

“Sadly, one of the pills taken from her grandmother was her Nitroglycerin medication,” Mortensen said.

It is one more instance in which Mortensen knows he may have averted a severe situation. He uses such moments to educate students in well-renowned “Safety Assemblies” he conducts in school districts throughout several states. However, Mortensen quickly declares that education begins in the home. He believes school administrators, faculty and coaches inherit what parents “do and not do” in the home. “In any calculation, that’s not fair,” Mortensen added.

Following the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary, where twenty-seven lives were lost, Mortensen was invited by Lt. Governor Todd Lamb to address a newly formed Oklahoma Commission on school security at the state Capitol, simply because Providence successfully discovers so many firearms in schools each academic year. The Lt. Governor later called Mortensen to reveal that his presentation assisted in the drafting and ultimate passing of SB 259 into law, requiring all school districts to report to law enforcement any firearms discovered on school campuses.

Quoting Albert Einstein, Mortensen shared, “The world is an increasingly dangerous place. We will not look on and do nothing.”

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