Getting to write for Tails has led me to see some pretty cool stuff in the short time the magazine has been around. This working K-9 article being one of my favorites to do, I get to meet dogs that perform pretty impressive feats on a daily basis. This issue is definitely no exception. Abby, with the Burton Fire District in Beaufort is this issue’s working dog! Abby has a job that I never knew existed in the K-9 industry: an arson detection dog. I was fortunate enough to get to hang out with Abby and her handler Lt. John Perry to see just what being a fire hound is all about.
As it turns out, State Farm Insurance provides arson dogs in select parts of the country and has for the last 25 years. In hopes of cutting back on fraudulent claims, State Farm invests in dogs like Abby to help determine if a fire was intentional since arson is one of the most underreported crimes. A lot of the dogs that end up working as arson dogs actually began their training to become disability dogs, but for one reason or another, they didn’t make the cut. With the arson dog program, they’re given a second chance to put their skills and training to use. While a lot of police or military dogs are typically Malinois, arson dogs are often labradors. Abby is a black lab who’s put in the time, and job-wise, she’s a rare breed!
Abby started her career at a young age, with a rigorous 30-day, 200-hour class with her handler. In her training, Abby was trained to sniff out 250+ accelerants! Six years later, she’s one of only four dogs in the entire state of South Carolina that can do what she does. Lt. Perry had his own training to do as well. The basic requirements to be an arson dog handler mean at least 10 years as a firefighter, in addition to the dog training program to be completed in Maine.
In her time as the area’s only arson dog, Abby has investigated 60+ fires – a number of those being arson cases that would have gone unnoticed otherwise. She has the uncanny ability to detect accelerants long after a fire has engulfed a structure and cooled off enough for her to check it out. Her reward? Every time she detects an accelerant, she gets to eat. This separates her from the police K-9s: they train to play, but Abby trains for her meals. Her skills have been used all over the Lowcountry. From Hampton to Jasper and from Allendale to Hilton Head, Abby finds accelerants better than the computers can that are built to do the same thing. If one of the other arson dogs in the state is out of commission or they need help, Abby is called upon to come to their aid.
But even when she’s not working, she’s still a busy dog. When she’s not digging through ash and rubble, Abby is training every day to hone and maintain her skills. The company who trains all the arson dogs also requires Lt. Perry and Abby to recertify every year, and State Farm requires the pair to make regular public appearances as well. When I was researching for this article, Lt. Perry was kind enough to show me a demonstration of Abby’s skill set. It became clear very quickly that Abby was accustomed to having an audience. When it was time to train, she didn’t mind having a camera in her face as she kept her laser focus on getting the job done.
Beaufort should be proud of this hound. Abby is dog who does a job that few know dogs have. Thanks to canines like her, more crimes are discovered and solved, and justice is served as a result. Seeing her skills first-hand was an incredible experience, and it’s no wonder why she’s the chosen one for fighting fire with fur.
By Justin Smith