Originally published in The Observer. Click here to view original article.
Notre Dame Security Police (NDSP) implemented a K-9 program this semester to add another layer of security to its operations.
The two black Labrador retrievers who were recently added to the police department — 3-year-old Skeet and 18-month-old Toxi — are NDSP’s first security dogs, Clark said. Clark is Skeet’s handler, while security officer Jarret Gilpin is Toxi’s handler.
“I believe it’s pretty much an innovative thing,” Clark said. “We made the choice so we’d have another layer of security. The way the world is changing, people are exploding things — today’s suicide bombers, the Boston marathon run [and] what happened there. And you know, it’s easier for the dogs to detect explosives than it is for us with their sense of smell.”
NDSP’s efforts to ensure safety during home football games was one of the driving factors that lead the department to implement a K-9 program, deputy chief Stephan Smith said.
“We did our research and found that this is some of the best technology that’s out there, and it’s definitely a direction we wanted to go,” he said. “It’s important to say there is no imminent threat to Notre Dame or our community at this time. However, we just felt that this is something worth investing in because, you know, everybody’s safety — not only on game day but every single day here on campus — is our priority.”
Clark said Toxi and Skeet are “vapor wake dogs,” which means they have been trained to detect explosives. The dogs underwent intensive training for about three months, Gilpin said.
“ … Probably out of 100, two dogs had the qualities and stuff like that of a vapor wake canine that they were looking for,” Gilpin said. “They have high independence and a high drive and stuff like that, so [Toxi’s] been training since she was like 3 months [old] or so, I believe.”
Though he has worked for NDSP for 27 years and seen three proposals for a K-9 program, Clark said Toxi and Skeet are the department’s first security dogs. Clark said the new K-9 program has been “a dream come true” for him.
“My dad actually trained dogs in Compton, California, in the ’70s,” Clark said. “He was a carpenter, so he started training dogs to watch the property out after he had repaired it. He’s always had a love for dogs, so I guess that I got the fever, too.
“So I’ve been involved in training them for a very long time — in obedience, in protection. To me, it’s like I’m not even working anymore. I’m just enjoying myself.”
Clark said the dogs have contributed to a new routine within the police department.
“If there’s any special events going on, they like for us to work the special events,” he said. “When dignitaries come, we will probably sweep the building they’re in before they return. We kind of do our lock-up differently now.”
Gilpin added that since they have only been working with the dogs for about seven weeks, he and Clark are still adjusting to the changes.
“We’re still learning and they’re still learning,” he said. “They’re from Alabama and now they’re in Indiana, and it’s just kind of a different atmosphere for them. I’m looking forward to seeing [Toxi] in snow because she probably hasn’t seen snow yet.”
One of the biggest challenges to integrating the dogs into the police department is getting to know their personalities, Gilpin said.
“Each dog is different. My issues are different than [Clark’s],” he said. “They’re similar but different. Each dog is a different personality. It’s getting used to where we work together better. We’ve only worked together for seven weeks.”
Clark described Skeet as “an eager beaver” who enjoys work, while Gilpin said Toxi was “very playful and loving.”
“When it comes time to work, she works, but it’s just one of those things where her personality is, ‘Hey, let’s play,’” Gilpin said of Toxi. “She wants to play tug-of-war, loves playing fetch like any other dog. She’s just very affectionate.”
Students should not be afraid of the dogs, Clark said, as they are not aggressive.
Why Vapor Wake Works for Notre Dame Security Police?
“Their basic job is to protect the University,” he said. “If you see us, you’ll notice they’ll smell garbage cans. Because they’re vapor wake dogs, they’ll hit on the backpacks and if they hit on it, they’re smelling it — their job is to make sure there isn’t explosives there.”
The dogs have served as great outreach tools in the community, Smith said, and NDSP would like to continue to use the dogs to connect with people across campus.
“You know, if somebody says, ‘Hey, I’m having this event, and it’d be nice to have one of the NDSP canines and the handler there,’ we’d love to do that,” he said. “We’d love to find new ways to connect with our community.”