Dog Trained by Inmates Now Sniffs Out Arson Fires
Photo: Utah Department of Public Safety / St. George News
A Labrador Retriever in Utah was trained by prison inmates, and now serves as an ATF agent detecting arson fires.

A 4-year old black lab named Oscar has found a very purposeful life by using his trained nose to help authorities solve arson crimes.

Before becoming a crime fighting K-9 agent, Oscar underwent training with Ohio’s “Puppies Behind Bars” (PBB) program. PBB assigns trained prison inmates a puppy to raise and train for 1-2 years. The dogs are taught to be service dogs for war veterans and to detect explosives.

From there, Oscar was evaluated by the Utah Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to see if he would be a good fit for their unit.

Having determined he seemed right for the job, the ATF then put Oscar through 12 weeks of rigorous training at the ATF National Canine Center in Front Royal, Virginia. Here, he was taught to detect accelerants.

The organization clearly believed in Oscar’s abilities, as they invested approximately $50,000 in his training and care. Oscar is one of only 53 accelerant detection dogs in the entire country.

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On The Job

When a fire occurs, authorities must investigate the scene to determine whether it was an accident or arson (the crime of intentionally setting a structure on fire).

Oscar is sent into the scene to sniff around and try to detect various accelerants. He can recognize several products, which are divided into six categories of accelerant. If Oscar detects the odor of a certain chemical, he points his nose at it and sits to alert his handler of his discovery.

Oscar’s handler, Utah Deputy Fire Marshal Troy Mills, says Oscar’s skills are incredible.

Some chemicals that Oscar detects are gasoline, diesel fuel, kerosene, and charcoal fluid. Mills speaks to Oscar’s abilities, saying that he can put a drop of kerosene on a golf tee, hide it in his yard, and Oscar will find it.

Dog Trained by Inmates Now Sniffs Out Arson Fires
Oscar and handler Mills. Photo: Utah DPS, St. George News

Dogs can smell 100,000 times better than humans can. While humans use their brain mostly for visual detection, dogs use their olfactory skills much more. Humans have around 5 million smell receptors; dogs can have up to 300 million. They can even smell week-old human fingerprints, and detect thing 40 feet underground with their noses!

Oscar’s Impact

Together, Oscar and Mills investigate approximately 30-40 fires in Utah per year. Due to the rarity of dogs like Oscar, they are sent all over the state of Utah to research fires.

Without Oscar’s valuable nose, investigators would have to send samples to labs and wait several months for the results.

From giving prison inmates a sense of purpose to solving arson crimes, this incredible pup’s journey through life has been nothing but positive and meaningful. More and more, we are finding ways to incorporate man’s best friend into roles of invaluable service to humanity. Add Oscar’s skills to the list of reasons we have to be grateful for our talented, loyal, and hard-working canine friends.

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SOURCESt. George Utah News
Cody has worked and volunteered with rescue animals her entire life. She worked as a veterinary assistant and technician in shelters, rescues, boarding facilities, doggy daycares and animal hospitals in New York and Chicago throughout her teens and twenties, and now resides as a pet foster mom in Upstate New York.