3-Year-Old German Shepherd Among California’s Best Arson Detectives

SUNNYVALE (KPIX 5) — Kodiak is a 3-year-old German Shepherd and an elite brand of detective.

Kodiak is one of only a handful of arson dogs in California.

“He can detect 14 different odors, burned and unburned,” said Officer Bill Whitaker, who has been Kodiak’s partner for two years with the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety.

The pair is called to fire scenes to help investigators rule out or confirm arson.

Kodiak is trained to smell fire-starters like gasoline, diesel, lighter fluid, toluene, kerosene, camp oils, and more.

The dog is certified to detect an amount of accelerant that’s as small as a half to one microliter. That’s just a fraction of a drop.

In their first TV news demonstration for KPIX 5, Whitaker dropped a trace amount of 50 percent evaporated gasoline in four corners of a courtyard.

When Kodiak found the gasoline, he sat down.

“They learn the odor, they get paid by a toy, which for Kodiak is a ball with a string, and we get to play tug,” explained Whitaker.

He said Kodiak detected accelerants in 14 cases in the last nine months.

One case involved an elderly woman who died in a suspected arson at her San Mateo home.

Another case focused on a disgruntled worker who was arrested for setting his former supervisor’s Palo Alto home on fire.

Kodiak can search an area in minutes; it would take humans hours or days.

While there are hundreds of arson dogs nationwide, Kodiak is believed to be one of the only ones cross-trained for police work.

For example, he tracks violent felons.

And he wears his own badge.

Captain Shawn Ahearn of the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety said because Kodiak is trained in police and fire work, he is a valuable resource for the entire state.

“We understand how to collect evidence, not to disturb evidence,” Captain Ahearn said. “It’s a great advantage to have Bill and Kodiak do what they do.”

But it’s also a great commitment.

“It’s a 365 day, 24-7 obligation,” affirmed Ahearn.

The team updates its training each month, and gets re-certified every year. A grant helped the city of Sunnyvale pay the $12,000 for Kodiak and the team’s initial training.

The city pays about $800 a year for veterinarian bills and food.

Whitaker keeps his four-legged partner on a strict diet, with regular breaks so he does not burn out.

Kodiak goes home with his human handler, as part of his family.

“It’s just a great bond and friendship we have,” Whitaker concluded.

Together, he and his best friend are an arsonist’s worst nightmare.

More from Sharon Chin
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