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6 Remarkable Police Animals

We’ve seen bookstore cats, animals trained to sniff out bombs and heroic dogs, but now we're here to focus on animals who have served, or are currently serving, their local police departments.

1. Momo, Nara Police Department, Japan

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=YVn9UKutgAs

We’re used to seeing large police dogs because, let’s face it, a lap dog can’t take down a running fugitive. But there are a lot of other duties for police dogs out there—and a pup doesn't have to be big to sniff out bombs, drugs, or people buried under rubble. So why not have some small dogs work in these specialized areas?

The Japanese made news last year when they hired a tiny little Chihuahua as the Nara Police Department's newest police dog. Momo passed her search and rescue test with flying colors by finding a person within five minutes after smelling their hat. While the little pup might not be able to drag anyone from the rubble, officers do point out that her size provides her with a major advantage when it comes to squeezing into small openings that would be too narrow for most rescue dogs. Of course, in between earthquakes and fires, she’s still doing good community service by looking absolutely adorable.

2. Mattie, Connecticut State Police, United States

When it comes to arson investigations, dogs are better at sniffing out accelerants than most of the investigator’s instruments. But the idea of using dogs for that task is still pretty new; the first dog, a black lab named Mattie, was put to work in 1986. In order to graduate from Accelerant Detection Canine School, which is run by the ATF, she had to be able to identify 17 different types of accelerants in a fire’s aftermath, even when there were only a few drops of the compounds. (Dogs and their handlers can only pass if they have a perfect score in the final test.)

Mattie was placed in service with the Connecticut State Police that same year. While waiting for fires to be put out, she would be brought out to the scene, where she would sniff at any onlookers. In many cases, Mattie was able to identify suspects in the crowd who still had residue from the accelerants on them. Mattie worked with the state police for 11 years before retiring in 1997.

3. Lemon, Kyoto Police Department, Japan

If you think a Chihuahua is a bad police dog, then just imagine having a police cat. To be fair, Officer Lemon operates in a small town in Kyoto Prefecture, Japan, which has a population made up of mostly elderly folks, and his only cases involve suspicious phone calls. Lemon doesn't help track down the prank callers, but he does help relax the victims—an important job for police handling these kinds of situations.

Lemon has been with the police since he was two weeks old. Of course, that’s probably why he’s so comfortable in his adorable little uniform; most cats that grew up without clothing probably wouldn’t be so willing to wear the tiny jacket and hat that Lemon sports while on duty.

4. Santisuk, Saiburi Police Department, Thailand

This officer might monkey around a bit, but you’d still better take him seriously—no matter how cute he looks in his little police shirt. Santisuk, a pig-tailed macaque, was adopted by a police officer after he was found with a broken arm. They soon started training him to pick up coconuts and then they realized that he might just help alleviate tensions at police checkpoints.

Their plan worked. When Santisuk stands duty at the checkpoints, motorists happily stop their vehicles and many even pull over to take their picture with the monkey. He has changed the public image of the police force so much that many other police precincts in the area are considering adding their own monkeys to the force.

5 & 6. Echo, Metropolitan Police Department, and Sefton, Household Cavalry, United Kingdom

Echo and Sefton are probably the best remembered police horses, and it’s for a rather sad reason.

The horses were survivors of the July 20, 1982 bombing of Hyde Park. A car bomb—made from 25 pounds of explosives surrounded in 4- and 6-inch nails—killed four soldiers and seven other horses. Echo, part of the Metropolitan Police Department, was left was a piece of shrapnel in his side. Household Cavalry horse Sefton had 38 shrapnel wounds, and his jugular vein was severed. Another Cavalry horse, Yeti, also survived the blast. After the incident, Echo, too nervous to go back to the police department, was retired from duty. Sefton did go back to work for a bit, but eventually, all three horses were retired at the same stable, where they would live for the rest of their lives. When the horses made public appearances, people were touched—Echo and Sefton even received a standing ovation when they appeared at the Horse of the Year show.

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Penn Vet Working Dog Center
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
New Program Trains Dogs to Sniff Out Art Smugglers
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Soon, the dogs you see sniffing out contraband at airports may not be searching for drugs or smuggled Spanish ham. They might be looking for stolen treasures.

K-9 Artifact Finders, a new collaboration between New Hampshire-based cultural heritage law firm Red Arch and the University of Pennsylvania, is training dogs to root out stolen antiquities looted from archaeological sites and museums. The dogs would be stopping them at borders before the items can be sold elsewhere on the black market.

The illegal antiquities trade nets more than $3 billion per year around the world, and trafficking hits countries dealing with ongoing conflict, like Syria and Iraq today, particularly hard. By one estimate, around half a million artifacts were stolen from museums and archaeological sites throughout Iraq between 2003 and 2005 alone. (Famously, the craft-supply chain Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in 2017 for buying thousands of ancient artifacts looted from Iraq.) In Syria, the Islamic State has been known to loot and sell ancient artifacts including statues, jewelry, and art to fund its operations.

But the problem spans across the world. Between 2007 and 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Control discovered more than 7800 cultural artifacts in the U.S. looted from 30 different countries.

A yellow Lab sniffs a metal cage designed to train dogs on scent detection.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

K-9 Artifact Finders is the brainchild of Rick St. Hilaire, the executive director of Red Arch. His non-profit firm researches cultural heritage property law and preservation policy, including studying archaeological site looting and antiquities trafficking. Back in 2015, St. Hilaire was reading an article about a working dog trained to sniff out electronics that was able to find USB drives, SD cards, and other data storage devices. He wondered, if dogs could be trained to identify the scents of inorganic materials that make up electronics, could they be trained to sniff out ancient pottery?

To find out, St. Hilaire tells Mental Floss, he contacted the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, a research and training center for detection dogs. In December 2017, Red Arch, the Working Dog Center, and the Penn Museum (which is providing the artifacts to train the dogs) launched K-9 Artifact Finders, and in late January 2018, the five dogs selected for the project began their training, starting with learning the distinct smell of ancient pottery.

“Our theory is, it is a porous material that’s going to have a lot more odor than, say, a metal,” says Cindy Otto, the executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the project’s principal investigator.

As you might imagine, museum curators may not be keen on exposing fragile ancient materials to four Labrador retrievers and a German shepherd, and the Working Dog Center didn’t want to take any risks with the Penn Museum’s priceless artifacts. So instead of letting the dogs have free rein to sniff the materials themselves, the project is using cotton balls. The researchers seal the artifacts (broken shards of Syrian pottery) in airtight bags with a cotton ball for 72 hours, then ask the dogs to find the cotton balls in the lab. They’re being trained to disregard the smell of the cotton ball itself, the smell of the bag it was stored in, and ideally, the smell of modern-day pottery, eventually being able to zero in on the smell that distinguishes ancient pottery specifically.

A dog looks out over the metal "pinhweel" training mechanism.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

“The dogs are responding well,” Otto tells Mental Floss, explaining that the training program is at the stage of "exposing them to the odor and having them recognize it.”

The dogs involved in the project were chosen for their calm-but-curious demeanors and sensitive noses (one also works as a drug-detection dog when she’s not training on pottery). They had to be motivated enough to want to hunt down the cotton balls, but not aggressive or easily distracted.

Right now, the dogs train three days a week, and will continue to work on their pottery-detection skills for the first stage of the project, which the researchers expect will last for the next nine months. Depending on how the first phase of the training goes, the researchers hope to be able to then take the dogs out into the field to see if they can find the odor of ancient pottery in real-life situations, like in suitcases, rather than in a laboratory setting. Eventually, they also hope to train the dogs on other types of objects, and perhaps even pinpoint the chemical signatures that make artifacts smell distinct.

Pottery-sniffing dogs won’t be showing up at airport customs or on shipping docks soon, but one day, they could be as common as drug-sniffing canines. If dogs can detect low blood sugar or find a tiny USB drive hidden in a house, surely they can figure out if you’re smuggling a sculpture made thousands of years ago in your suitcase.

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Live Smarter
Why Your Pet's Food Bowl Might Be One of the Grossest Things in Your Kitchen
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iStock

Although the well-worn sponge remains king of the germ colonies in an average kitchen, pet food bowls are giving them a run for their money, as Kitchn reports. According to public safety evaluators NSF International, pet bowls are among the filthiest surfaces in a home, harboring yeast, mold, and bacteria like E. coli. Yet most owners don’t wash them very often, mistakenly believing that dry foods don’t leave residue behind or that pets have a sturdy enough constitution to deal with the festering gunk.

Of the 30 objects that were swabbed for the study of 22 homes, pet bowls won out as the fourth germiest, not far behind kitchen sponges and dish rags, kitchen sinks, and toothbrush holders. The problem, according to veterinarian Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, is that germs like salmonella that linger in food and water bowls can cause illness in both pets and their owners. This is particularly true for the immunocompromised and children. The bowls pose a health risk for everyone in the household, and the only way to mitigate it is with regular cleaning.

Bowls should be cleaned with soapy water once daily and sanitized once a week. The latter includes soaking in bleach or running the bowls through high temperatures in a dishwasher. If you feed your pet a raw food diet, you might want to consider washing after each use or using disposable bowl liners that can be discarded after every meal.

According to Dr. Vogelsang, dry kibble is usually run through high heat during manufacturing, but it’s no guarantee that all bacteria has been eliminated. You also want to stick with stainless steel or ceramic bowls, as cracks in plastic can harbor germs.

While you’re at it, give food placemats a wash and your pet’s toys a good soak. Coupled with keeping your toilet lid down, the extra effort should minimize your pet’s exposure to bacteria that could make you both sick. Getting your dog to stop eating poop? That's another story.

[h/t Kitchn]

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