PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Dona is an 18-month-old Labrador retriever and she’s just about as gentle and lovable a dog as you can get.
But when it’s time for her to step into her new role, she’s all business.
Dona is being trained at the ATF National Canine Division in Virginia. As the Philadelphia Fire Department’s new accelerant detection canine, she will accompany her new partner, Assistant Fire Marshall George Werez, on fire scenes, sniffing out accelerants that may have been used to commit arson.
“We basically train with the dog, learn the dog’s behavior. We learn how the dog works and we train them on the odors, make sure they smell accelerants,” said Werez.
During this training course–filled with fire debris like clothing and wood–George gives a command.
“First I give the command seek. Then she’ll put her nose down and she’ll find the odor. When she finds an odor she’ll put her nose on it then she’ll sit,” says Werez.
Then she’s rewarded with a handful of food as a treat. Dona’s job on any fire scene will be crucial–getting investigators samples of evidence.
George remembers the days years ago when the department didn’t have these dogs.
“I took samples they all came back negative. If we had a dog at that time our chances of getting back positive samples, they go way up,” he said.
The ATF National Canine Division is nestled in the scenic mountains of Front Royal, Virginia. Since the inception of the accelerant-detecting canine program in 1984 officials have trained hundreds of dogs throughout the country.
“Currently we have 57 police and fire departments nationwide that have one of our canines,” said Shawn Crawford, an ATF trainer.
Crawford and his team help to train the dogs during a 12 week period. They start the training six weeks prior to pairing a dog with his or her new partner. Then the dogs begin training alongside them every day.
“Most of the dogs we get they were gonna be guide dogs for the blind usually because they may have too much energy or they like to chase cats, they make a career change and they come over to ATF,” said Crawford.
George is looking forward to Dona’s long career as a critical crime-fighting tool in Philadelphia. Her presence making all the difference in nabbing an arsonist.
“I’m excited I’m excited she’s a good dog, trained well,” said Werez.
Crawford says, “When they go back and you get that phone call or you get that text like, ‘Hey I locked an arsonist up today, I took a pipe bomb off the street, I took an illegal firearm off the street,’ it’s very very rewarding,” said Crawford.