A black dog with a white spot on its chest was led into a room by its handler. Within seconds, the dog found the hidden glass jar, containing a cotton ball soaked in accelerant.
“Good check,” called out El Dorado County Fire Capt. Brandon McKay. Percy, a female lab/pointer mix, barked while digging under the chair the jar was hidden under, and then grabbed the jar and brought it out for McKay to see. “Good girl,” he said, throwing a tennis ball — the reward for a job well done.
Percy, rescued from a high-kill shelter, was originally trained as a narcotics-sniffing dog in 160 hours over a month-long period. But, instead of assisting with narcotics, Percy underwent another 160 hours with trainer David Dorn to sniff out about 24 different accelerants as well as fireworks, lighters and matches. On Aug. 1, Percy was certified as an arson investigation dog, able to identify the existence of an accelerant of an industry standard from 6 feet away.
The training for Percy to become part of the fire family took about $5,000, McKay said, which was raised solely through the community. Now certified through Dorn, Percy is ready to aid in investigations with the Arson Task Force, a team servicing the Sacramento and Sierra regions. Within 24 hours of certification, the dog was helping with a fire in El Dorado Hills.
Percy is the only arson investigation dog in the county, McKay said, and they are fairly uncommon on the West Coast. He explained that, when a person walks into a McDonald’s, they smell a cheeseburger. But a trained dog smells the individual components — the bread, cheese, meat, sauce and condiments.
When not at work, the dog goes home with McKay to his family. He said Percy is good with kids and his wife “gets a big thanks” for allowing him to keep the dog. Percy “is a lover, she’s a hambone. She loves sunbathing.”
But, when back at work, Percy is “another tool in the toolbox to service the community.” McKay added it is a win-win situation — they saved the dog’s life, and now Percy helps firefighters find evidence of arson.
Purchase and training of Percy was made possible by donations from Shelly Fletcher, Doug Veerkamp, Ed Courtial, Cole McKay, Lisa and Timothy Alameda, Maverick Insulation, Thompson Toyota, El Dorado Disposal, Mosquito Creek Outfitters, Aesthetic Artistry Surgical and Medial Center, Auburn Toyota, Auburn Ford, the El Dorado County Fire Prevent Officers Association and the El Dorado County Professional Firefighters Association. Golderado Pet Hospital’s Dr. David Barnes and his staff donated veterinary care; Lees’ Feed donated pet supplies and equipment; Breaker Glass provided tint for the K-9 vehicle; and Clifton and Warren Feed donated dog food for a year.
Donations are greatly appreciated to help with continuing costs, McKay said. Contact the El Dorado County Fire District at 530-644-9630 for more information.