Big Tony is a beautiful, playful purebred blond 2-year-old Labrador with a grin wide as Wyoming.

And trust me, if he comes to your house you do not want to see him leave happy.

That's because Big Tony sniffs out drugs. He works for a new company, the first of its kind in Utah, called Utah Drug Dog, that will come to your residence, or office, or school — pretty much anywhere — to see if there are drugs on the premises.

Big Tony is Utah Drug Dog's franchise player, as it were. As he goes, so goes the company. His human partners, Aaron Day and Ty Brown, have invested about $10,000 getting him trained at a dog-training university back East, where he was schooled alongside dogs working for Homeland Security and the Navy SEALS, among others.

Big Tony is a big deal in the dog world — he's what is known as a specialty dog — although you'd never know it just to look at him.

"He just loves to play," Aaron explained when he introduced Big Tony and me recently at his home in Alpine.

I came to watch Big Tony sniff out drugs Aaron had hidden at various places around the house.

"You can't discipline him too much," Aaron said as Big Tony bounded out of his kennel in the garage, almost knocking us both down. "It will take away his drive. Basically you can't cue the dog; you've got to let the dog cue you."

With that, Big Tony was off, quickly zeroing in on the gas-tank compartment in Aaron's sport utility vehicle parked in the driveway.

Sure enough, stashed inside was a packet of pseudo-drugs.

Wow, I thought, relieved he hadn't found anything in my car.

As Big Tony continued his game of hide-and-seek, finding pseudo-drug packets in two other areas in the house — and getting a treat each time — Aaron explained that the dog is capable of finding meth, crack, heroin, marijuana and cocaine.

For a price that averages around $125, he will come to your house or business and sniff for drugs. The whole process usually takes less than a half-hour. Big Tony is not only good, he's fast. If he could shoot, the Jazz would draft him.

The search can be completely discreet, Aaron explained. If a parent or an employer suspects drug activity, Big Tony can show up when nobody's around. If he doesn't find anything, fantastic. If he does find something, not so fantastic — unless you're Big Tony.

But in the event he does sniff out drugs, as Aaron explained, then you know there's a problem and can get to work trying to do something about it.

"What we're providing is a proactive approach to solving a drug problem," he said.

With fall just around the corner, Utah Drug Dog hopes to work extensively with schools, helping to keep drugs off campus and assisting police "who are understaffed and overworked."

Eventually, plans call for Big Tony to be joined by other trained drug dogs, and Utah Drug Dog will be available to sniff in Utah and surrounding states. (See www.utahdrugdog.com for more information.)

"We'll go where we're called," said Aaron. "We're pretty low overhead."

And Big Tony never complains about going to work.


Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com and faxes to 801-237-2527.