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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Sadie the Fire Dog Sniffing Out Arson

Phoenix Fire Captain Fred Andes explains it this way: When we order a pizza and it arrives at our home, we smell the pizza. Our dog smells the cheese, the sauce, the meat and the seasonings, all separately. That is why dogs, with their heightened olfactory senses, can sniff out things out like drugs, bombs, cadavers or even arson fires.

Andes is the handler of Sadie, a beautiful chocolate lab that sniffs out arson in the aftermath of fires all over Phoenix and Maricopa County. The two-year-old is trained to let investigators know if an accelerant was used to start the fire and she is able to identify 30 or 40 types, he said.

He said he leads Sadie around the scene of a fire so she can “look” for some chemical responsible for the fire. When she gets a “hit,” she sits down, points her nose and positions the scent between her front paws.

“She will let you know the minute she hits,” Andes said.

After having been on the job since April 2007, she has managed to aid in the arrest of six arsonists last year, half of which were homicides. Other arrests are pending, he said.

She is only one of two arson-sniffing dogs in Arizona of a total of about 200 nationwide.

State Farm Insurance sponsors Sadie. The company purchased the dog, paid for the training for both the dog and Andes. The Phoenix Fire Department pays for her food and vet bills, he said.

Paul Gallager, a former state trooper from Maine, who is considered one of the best K-9 trainers anywhere, started the program. He has turned out drug, bomb and arson-sniffing dogs and runs the training program for State Farm, Andes said. The dogs are found everywhere, from newspaper ads to animal shelters all over the country, Sadie was found tied up in a barn in Illinois. Her family was moving and needed to find a good home for her.

Gallager likes Labradors because they are high-energy, people friendly and they love to work.

Andes and Sadie have their own caseload and they are called out several times a month to suspected arson fires, he said.
On the job Sadie has a unique drive and willingness to work. Off the job she is a pet.

“She’s a doll. She’s a very beautiful dog. Everybody loves her. She hangs around the firehouse during the day and home with the family at night. She’s a part of the family,” said Andes, 47.

Andes said he got involved about two years ago after having been with the fire department for 24 years. Always a dog lover, when the former handler and his dog retired, he decided to give it a try.

“I went through the application process and was accepted. In April 2007, I went to Maine for five weeks of training with Sadie,” he said.” It is a huge commitment. You take your dog with you because you work as a team. The dog is with you 24/7. They come to work with us and they come home with us.”

The average dog of Sadie’s skill set works about seven years before he or she is retired.

Andes said the way handlers decide if the time is right to retire a dog is when it goes to the scene of a fire and has no interest at all. When this happens a few times, it’s over for the dog because it will never have an interest again.

But in the meantime, to make sure Sadie stays at the top of her game, she must be recertified once a year and undergo yearly physicals.
Before Sadie, the department had two other arson dogs, Zeus and Sharkey, who have both since retired.

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