K-9 Scent Tracking Dogs
The New Jersey Forest Fire Service initiated a K-9 program in the fall of 2004. The program was established with one dog and modeled after the Virginia and West Virginia State Forest Service programs. Both states attributed a significant decrease in the number of wildfires due to their K-9 programs.
New Jersey’s program, however, is unique, in that the scent tracking dog is the property of the handler. This handler is responsible to ensure for the care, feeding, and board of the animal while the agency is responsible for associated costs. It is with great appreciation that Petsmart © of Hamilton Township has provided most of the scent dogs needs for free as part of a nation-wide initiative. Since the start of this program, the handler has added two more bloodhounds also at no cost to the State, for a total of three dogs: Blaze, Dancer and Romeo.
These K-9 tracking dogs are used to help the wildfire investigator by tracking the scent of a suspect from the scene; giving the investigator direction of travel, possible witnesses, and a more defined search area. The mere presence of the dogs has convinced two suspects to admit to lighting wildfires. The K-9 team has been utilized to assist in several wildfire investigations to date. The bloodhounds have also found use in the search for lost persons in rural and forested areas. The K-9 team has been utilized on two searches over the past year.
Another use of these scent dogs is to enhance our public information campaign. Over the past year, the K-9 team has taken part in over 110 informational programs with over 8,800 direct contacts. During the programs, the public receives fire prevention and enforcement education, with the scent dogs being the catalyst for interaction. People love the bloodhounds, drawing larger crowds, and initiating more questions.
To maintain the certification required by the Attorney General’s Office, a high level of training of the dog and handler must be maintained. This training is received at no cost in cooperation with the Cape May County Sheriff’s Department. This training occurs in various weather conditions, geographic locations, and under multiple fire conditions to ensure the team will be prepared and qualified for whatever they might encounter. Training records and investigation logs are kept in accordance with accepted standards for law enforcement K-9.