06:49 AM

Fire investigator overcomes fear of dogs to become first Latina arson dog handler

Maggie Greene, the first Latina graduate of the State Farm Arson Dog Program, has faced fears, overcome challenges, and made history.

When Maggie Greene’s family immigrated from Mexico to the United States, they hoped to raise their children in a safe community that provided opportunities for their children to thrive. Her family, like so many that have immigrated to this country, risked a great deal but had big hopes and dreams for the future. 

In an instant, those hopes and dreams were nearly shattered for Maggie.

At the age of eight, Maggie suffered a severe injury after being attacked by a retired police dog. “My parents took me to a local community medical clinic but they only spoke Spanish and the doctors spoke English so I had to translate for them,” said Maggie. “The whole incident was like a bad dream and even today, I only remember bits and pieces.”

When doctors said they may have no option but to amputate the leg, Maggie’s mom insisted on a second opinion at a different hospital. Thankfully, doctors were able to save her leg. While the physical scars have long since healed, her emotional scars and fear of dogs lasted for four decades.

After the attack, Maggie was constantly on guard for signs of dogs -- even when they weren’t visible. She listened for the sounds of a dog tag on a collar, barking behind a fence, or any signs that a dog was near so she could avoid them. Little did she know that this heightened awareness and observational skills would be critical in her career.

Maggie began her fire service career in 2004 as a Fire Prevention Specialist with the City of Escondido Fire Department before joining the Chula Vista Fire Department (CVFD) in 2012 as a Fire Investigator. When she joined CVFD, her office was literally steps from her biggest fear … a dog. Just two years earlier, Fire Investigator Darin Golden had trained and certified with his partner, K9 Cali, through the State Farm Arson Dog Program. K9 Cali was an accelerant detection canine, commonly called an arson dog, whose job was to find evidence of gas or fuel at fire scenes. K9 Cali lived and worked with Investigator Golden every day, even staying in his office when they weren’t investigating a fire. An office that was just steps away from Maggie.

Even though she was scared, Maggie respected that K9 Cali was a member of the fire department. Over the years, the sweet demeanor of K9 Cali and Darin’s patience helped her become more comfortable around dogs. She also realized the important work that Darin and K9 Cali did at fire investigations and as she thought about it, she realized that the reason she joined the fire service was to help people and improve her community. Working with a law enforcement dog would allow her to do that more effectively. So, when K9 Cali retired after 12 years on the job, Maggie decided to do what many in her life thought was impossible.

Maggie Greene applied to train as an arson dog handler as the replacement team for Darin and K9 Cali. And for the second time, a dog was changing the course of her life.

Her family wanted to support her but had many questions. Would she be able to live and work every day with a dog knowing her fear? Maggie was allergic to dog fur so how would that impact her work and life?  Training and working a dog every single day is a huge commitment for a busy mother. Could she manage it? Still, she persisted, willing to make sacrifices to reach her goal just like her parents had done as Mexican immigrants. Her family understood and told her, “We will do whatever you want us to do to support you.” This is what family is about and in Maggie’s words, “I don’t do this alone.”

In April 2022, Maggie faced her fears and overcame the emotional obstacles she has held for over 40 years by training through the State Farm Arson Dog Program and becoming the first Latina arson canine handler. Along with her new partner, K9 Hannah, Maggie investigates arson crimes for her community. While she hasn’t thought of herself as a role model, when she looks back at all she has overcome, she hopes she can “inspire just one person” with her story.  In her own words, “I am one blessed soul.”

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