DCFD welcomes Cato the arson dog

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

The Darlington County Fire District is largely a volunteer organization, but the department’s newest member gets paid in food and belly rubs. Cato, a two year old female yellow lab, has joined DCFD as their new arson dog and will help the department sniff out intentionally set fires.

Funded by a grant from State Farm Insurance, the arson dog program pairs up specially trained canines with fire departments around the country, giving them a distinct advantage when it comes to fire scene investigations.

“Cato has been training for about a year now, and they trained me for about a month on how to handle her and how to understand what she’s telling me whenever she’s working,” said Flowers, who quickly bonded with Cato during their training in New Hampshire.

“One of the first things they do is talk to you about your family life and your home and they try to match the dog to your personality,” said Flowers.
Now, when she’s not on duty, Cato lives with Flowers and his family, and their Jack Russell terrier and Dachshund.

“She’s taught the weenie dog a few things. He thinks he’s a working dog now and runs to help whenever we’re training inside,” said Flowers. “He really thinks he’s doing something, but Cato just lets him play.”

During a skills demonstration on May 5, Flowers set out several cans containing typical debris from a residential fire, including burned carpet, wood, plastic, and paper. One can contained a training aid – an accelerant that could be used to ignite a fire – and Cato unerringly homed in on the right can every time.

“She can pick up on just about any type of accelerant used to start fires. She’ll know its there. Dogs have about two hundred and twenty million olfactory glands, where humans only have about five million,” said Flowers. “Her nose is far more sensitive than any sensors or probes we could use at a scene.”
Each time she correctly identified an accelerant can or sniffed out spots of gas dropped around the room, Cato received a yummy dog treat.

“She’s a food reward work dog, which means that when we work, she eats,” Flowers said, noting that Cato is exceptionally healthy even though she eats about fifty percent more than most dogs.

Flowers said he’s very happy DCFD was accepted into the State Farm arson dog program, since Cato is a very valuable asset, which the department could not afford without the grant program.

“Normally a dog like this would cost from $25,000 to $30,000, and my training would cost about $30,000. You put those two together and that’s a substantial amount of money – something we’d never be able to afford,” said Flowers.

Chief Flowers added that he and Cato would be happy to lend a hand (or paw) to other fire agencies around the Pee Dee with their arson investigations.
“This isn’t just a tool for Darlington County. We want to be able to go out to other departments and help them out. This truly is an asset to the entire region, not just for us,” said Flowers.

Author: Duane Childers

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