These dogs are more than best friends

The canines play an important role in the fire and police departments in San Bernardino CountyTHE PRESS-ENTERPRISE (RIVERSIDE, CA.) -- Meg is an expert sniffer.Meg, a member of the San Bernardino County Fire Department, boasts 54 arson arrests, including four for murder and eight for attempted murder.She has a 95 percent conviction rate.The total arson loss in her cases is almost $15 million. Not bad for a 7-year-old Labrador retriever."These animals aren't stupid," said fire Capt. Don Easton, Meg's owner and handler.They also aren't just man's best friend. A variety of breeds are being specially trained for various roles in firefighting, law enforcement and search and rescue missions.Meg is trained to smell flammable items such as petroleum, kerosene and diesel fuel, which an arsonist might use to light a fire.Like most dogs, Meg's value lies in her nose."Take the state of Washington and fill it two feet deep with water. Put in a tablespoon of gasoline," Easton said. "The dog has the ability to find it."For almost four years, Meg and Easton investigated possible arsons throughout San Bernardino County after being trained in Maine through a program sponsored by State Farm Insurance.Now, the team is retired."We're just kicking back," Easton said.Just beginning her career as an arson sniffer is Cinder, who works for the San Bernardino City Fire Department. Cinder recently helped investigate a fire on Tippecanoe Avenue.Rudy, almost 2 years old, is one of the newest dogs on the block.The San Bernardino City Police Department canine is a Belgian Malinois, a breed that became popular for law enforcement use in the 1990s because of their agility, demeanor, general health and powerful noses.The police department's K-9 force has three Malinois and two bloodhounds, which are part of a volunteer search team.Rudy and his handler, Officer Brian Tully, hit the streets more than a month ago. The dog, trained in a program with the Royal Dutch Police, is charged with searching for missing children along with criminal suspects."They don't breed (Malinois dogs) for show or beauty. They breed them for work," Tully said.The breed has the same biting power, sense of smell and ease of training as the more traditional police dog, the German shepherd. The two breeds cost about the same, about $ 5,800 per dog.The one advantage Rudy has over a German shepherd is his genes."They're genetically a much sounder dog," Tully said. "German shepherds have had significant problems with their hips. So (Malinois) have a longer career."The hip problem has increased in German shepherds over the last 10 years primarily because of overbreeding, said Sgt. Rick Moyer, who is in charge of the San Bernardino K-9 team. The Malinois is not a popular house dog so overbreeding hasn't been a problem, he said."The Malinois is the dog of the ྖs," Moyer said. "It's nearing the industry standard."A German shepherd's career averages five years. A Malinois could be expected to work eight to 10 years, Moyer said.Still, there's a place in law enforcement for German shepherds."German shepherds are not a thing of the past," Tully said.The California Highway Patrol boasts several dozen K-9 teams statewide. The agency started using dogs in the 1980s, said Eric Phipps, spokesman for CHP Inland Division in San Bernardino."They're an additional tool for us," Phipps said. "We use them for drug interdiction, suspect apprehension and officer protection. We use them for civilian protection, too."The CHP uses a variety of breeds, including the Malinois, Phipps said."(Malinois) is the dog of choice right now for the CHP," Phipps said. "They can work a lot longer with less problems. It has such a great temperment. It's just a work-aholic dog."

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