LAWRENCE — With a shiny black coat and root-beer colored eyes, Moxie, 4, is playful and cuddly when introduced to a visitor at her Farnham Street home.
However, the 55-pound English labrador is not nearly as hospitable when it comes to illicit drugs.
"Go find it," commands Moxie's handler, Kevin Drouin, during a recent mock drug search in his garage.
"Good girl," Drouin soon after praised as Moxie rapidly hits on scents of heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana and other illegal and highly addictive drugs.
As soon as the 4-year-old makes a hit, Moxie sits down quickly and zones in on Drouin, 47.
For her diligence and accuracy, she is rewarded with a treat, which that day was a small meatball.
"I am looking to save a life," explained Drouin, a former public school teacher who now runs Tough Love Intervention, a private canine narcotics detection company.
With Moxie, Drouin conducts private narcotics searches that do not include police involvement.
Drouin, a father of four, has been trained and certified to use Moxie for private narcotics searches in homes, detox and rehab facilities and sober houses and more.
Previously, Drouin spent 21 years as a middle school teacher in both Lawrence and Stoneham. His father, also from Lawrence, was a crack cocaine addict, he said.
Two years ago, as an epidemic level of heroin and opioid use exploded in the region, Drouin said he decided to launch a new career.
Initially he said Moxie was set to be purchased as a law enforcement dog in Arkansas. But when the sale fell through due to budget cuts in that state, Drouin said he paid $7,000 for her. He obtained his certification to conduct drug searches through an intense program in Missouri.
Daily, both handler and canine continue to train and exercise, which includes plenty of wind sprints and combined drills with other search dogs in New England, Drouin said.
Drouin's garage behind 35-37 Farnham St. is also a training center for Moxie.
The garage has a variety of luggage, briefcases, backpacks, filing cabinets and more. Using specially-made packages of "Scentlogix," which carry a variety of illegal drug scents, Drouin repeatedly prepares and trains Moxie for searches in the garage.
Dogs have long been used by law enforcement for everything from crowd control to drug detection.
But Moxie is now among the ranks of other private search dogs trained to detect everything from bed bugs, human remains and explosive devices.
"Private dog detection is a growing industry," Drouin explained.
Initially, Drouin said he figured much of his work would come from family members; parents or grandparents who suspected drug use by a loved one and wanted their homes searched.
However, so far he said he's worked on a regular basis doing searches at detox and rehab centers as well as sober living homes and complexes. Drouin said he signs a confidentiality agreement with every client and is paid roughly $300 or higher per hour depending on the size of the facility and the scope of the search.
"If narcotics are in that facility we are going to locate them for you," he said.
Drouin said he advises his clients to immediately destroy any drugs he finds in their facilities.
At one treatment center, Drouin said Moxie detected two bags of heroin that were hidden in the floor board of a porta-potty in a construction area at a facility.
"Someone drove onto that property and delivered heroin in the porta-potty," he said.
Doses of illegal drugs were also detected in take-out food deliveries being sent in to a patient at another of Drouin's clients.
To date, Tough Love searches have only resulted in the discovery of small amounts, or doses, of illegal drugs. However, Drouin said if any search unearthed a large quantity he would notify authorities.
"If I find a kilo, I will contact law enforcement myself. But I have not found (large) amounts yet," he said.
On every search, Drouin also carries Narcan, a drug which reverses the effect for opioid overdoses. Enough Narcan for revive both him and Moxie five times "goes right behind the main desk when we get there in case we overdose."
Drouin has met with community groups to talk about Tough Love Intervention's services. He and Moxie are also volunteering during park sweeps throughout the city of Lawrence.
Recent work in city parks unearthed marijuana, heroin, loaded crack pipes and approximately 100 hypodermic needles.
As a native Lawrencian, Drouin said he's offering a deep discount to any city resident who wants their home or property searched for narcotics.
"I am not looking to be Bill Gates. I am just trying to make a difference ... Pick up the phone before somebody is dead," he said.
More information is available at toughloveintervention.com.
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill.