Tuesday, May 11, 2021

This dog ‘flunked out’ of service school. Now he’s a star sniffing out arson fires

Sheldon has a nose for solving arson cases, and he proved it on his very first day at work.

Forth Worth Star -Telegram

The dog — part golden retriever, part black labrador — was trained by State Farm Insurance to use his incredibly sensitive snout to detect fuels and other accelerants, when authorities suspect that a fire was set on purpose and need evidence to support their case.

Sheldon’s handler, Saginaw fire battalion chief John Tadlock, remembers the eager pooch’s very first case, in the spring of 2018. The human-canine duo, having just completed a month of training on the east coast, had returned to Tarrant County and was called to a car dealership where several vehicles had mysteriously burned three days earlier.

Local and federal authorities had video of a suspect leaving the dealership minutes before the fire, but didn’t have evidence of what caused the fire itself. They were baffled.

“We get out of the truck, and put him to work. It takes him about 30 seconds, and he gives me an alert,” Tadlock recalled. “We dig through some debris and find a Molotov cocktail. It was just under some debris from the vehicle that had burned away, three days earlier. You couldn’t even see it (without the dog’s help).”

Sheldon and his handler recently completed their annual certification under the State Farm arson dog program, said Heather Paul, program coordinator. The certification, which this year was held virtually, includes the handler demonstrating the dog’s ability to distinguish between different types of smells at a fire site, and the handler’s ability to answer questions about their daily training and investigative work.

Tadlock, who lives in Stephenville and commutes several times per week to his job at the Saginaw Fire Dept, said he and Sheldon train daily. Sometimes they work together in Saginaw, and other times they work at home or at a first responders training facility at Tarrant County College Northwest.

Sheldon was initially trained as a service dog, like those used by people with sight impairments or epilepsy. But the gregarious, playful pooch “flunked out of that school,” Tadlock said.

State Farm gets many of its fuel-detecting dogs from service dog training companies.

“He made a better arson dog than a service dog,” Tadlock said.

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