My Life As a Dog

You know what they say: “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” Well in my case, “Where there’s been fire, there’s Smokey.”

Who am I? Name’s Smokey. I carry a badge. I’m an arson dog.

Yeah I know, I know. The correct term is accelerant-detection canine, but that’s quite a mouthful for a pup like me.

What’s an accelerant? Nothing but a fancy word for a liquid used to start a fire and make it burn quicker. Your common accelerants include gasoline, kerosene and lighter fluid.

Arsonists like to use this stuff when they set fires. But after the fire burns out, an investigator and I can go to the fire scene, and if there’s even a trace of accelerants, I’ll sniff it out. Trust me, my nose knows arson.

But just because I find accelerants doesn’t automatically make it an arson fire. That’s where Sam, my human partner, comes in.

Sam takes a sample from the area, puts it in a sealed container and sends it to the crime lab for analysis. There the science guys will test it and confirm (or deny) it’s an accelerant.

I was hanging out in an animal shelter, and my future didn’t look too doggone good until someone spotted me and said I’d make a good arson dog. Some of my canine counterparts also came from shelters. Others were donated to the program, and some were purchased from breeders.

We’re all Labrador retrievers. We make excellent arson dogs because we have a superior ability to discriminate among scents at a fire scene. And we have a strong desire to work and please our handlers, plus we get along well with people.

I was trained in Alfred, Maine, by Paul Gallagher, former head canine trainer for the Maine State Police. I like Paul. He says, “Training the dogs is easy. It’s training the humans that’s hard.”

Paul trained me to the standards of the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, and I’m certified by that organization. Every year I’m tested and recertified. That’s important because it helps establish my credibility if evidence I find is submitted in court.

Paul trained me to recognize the odor of accelerants like gasoline and associate it with food. I’m what they call a food-reward dog. Only time I eat is when I’m working.

What that means is even on days when we’re not going to fire scenes, several times a day Sam places drops of gas around the fire station or his house and says, “Let’s go to work!” As soon as he straps on the food pouch and I hear those words, I’m ready. Whenever I sniff out an accelerant, I sit and point to it with my nose. Sam rewards me with a handful of dog food.

We do this every day. I always eat at least four cups of food a day; I just never know when I’m going to get it. That helps keep me motivated to work.

But don’t worry: My vet says I’m in great shape. She says it’s actually healthier for me to eat several small meals instead of one or two large ones like most nonworking dogs do.

Sam and I make a great team, and we’ve worked lots of cases together. Once we were called to the scene of a fire that was still burning. As we walked among the crowd gathered to watch, my nose picked up the scent of gasoline on a man’s shoe. I stopped, sat down, and pointed to it with my nose.

After giving me some food, Sam asked the guy if he would answer a few questions. Turns out the guy later confessed to setting the fire himself. Thought he could burn his house down and collect the insurance money. Ha! Guess he didn’t know what this nose knows.

Well, much as I’d like to sit around and talk to you, Sam says it’s time to go work a fire scene.

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