Hero Arson Dog Goes Rogue
Solves Crime Single-Pawedly
When arson dog Bailey started going rogue, the first thought that went through Travis Kincaid’s mind was one of panic.
Kincaid, a Fire Captain and investigator in Knoxville, Tenn., had arrived at the scene of a house fire in East Knoxville with Bailey, a yellow Labrador retriever and trained arson dog.
Their initial investigation through the burned out living room had been promising. But now, with media cameras trained on her, Bailey wasn’t acting normally. Her head was turned away from Kincaid. She was straining at the leash and disobeying commands - her attention was focused somewhere else.
And as she finally broke free of the leash, she took off running, disappearing behind the house.
Kincaid did the only thing he could do.
He took off after her.
The Arson Dog Program
Bailey joined the State Farm Arson Dog program after training to be a service dog. Like many of the Labrador retrievers in the program, Bailey proved too food motivated and active for service dog duty. But those same traits made her an outstanding candidate to become an arson dog, joining a program with a long pedigree.
”Over the past two decades, this program has trained more than 325 teams for placement with law enforcement across the U.S. and Canada,” said Heather Paul, the State Farm Arson Dog Program Coordinator. “We even put these teams in places where we don’t write insurance policies because they’re so beneficial for the community. Investigating arson is expensive for law enforcement and taxpayers, but where it may take humans weeks or even months to find evidence, an arson dog can find a fire accelerant in a matter of minutes.”
Kincaid and Bailey met at school - arson dog school. Bailey had already completed several months of training before she met Travis for the first time at the four-week long training academy in Maine. Now it was Travis who needed to learn to work with Bailey and trust her nose.
It may not have seemed like the training had been very successful when Bailey took off running. But when Kincaid rounded the corner after her, he saw Bailey sitting in knee-length grass, waiting for him next to a smoldering Molotov cocktail - an improvised explosive device often used in arson.
”I had been ready to fuss at her,” Kincaid said. “Instead, I ended up giving her a reward.”
But Bailey wasn’t done.
Going Beyond The Call Of Duty
When Bailey began to strain against the leash again, Kincaid listened to his partner. Even though Bailey had never been trained in tracking, she was itching to move.
Figuring that Bailey had already been right once, Kincaid followed as Bailey led him through one empty lot after another, across a road and through a parking lot. Bailey stopped occasionally as though she had found an accelerant and waited for her food reward. It made for slow going.
Their journey ended at a loud, crowded building - a converted bar and nightclub, packed with people. Too many people, in fact. And whoever had burned down that house was inside.
The investigation team immediately swung into action. A Knoxville police sergeant entered the club, looking for potential suspects. The fire marshal shut down the club due to overcrowding and ordered the building emptied.
And as the crowd dispersed, Bailey was there, waiting and sniffing their shoes until she sat down next to one man, identifying him as her “person of interest.””He began to start saying things like ‘that dog is so stupid, I don’t have any drugs on me,’ “Kincaid said. “And when I told him that Bailey wasn’t a drug dog, he’s an arson dog, the color just drained from his face and he asked for his lawyer.”
The suspect, a gang member, was convicted of arson and manufacturing an explosive device, and he is currently in prison.
More Than A Partner
As part of the arson dog program, Bailey is assigned to her handler for life. She’s become part of the family, especially for Landon, Kincaid’s 8-year-old son. Landon is a special needs child, and Bailey has bonded with him perhaps even more closely than she has with his father.
”She’s very protective of him,” Kincaid said. “She wakes us up to go check on him and won’t let us get back to sleep until we tell her it’s okay.”
”Bailey has given herself two jobs,” Paul added. “Serving the people of Knoxville and protecting Travis’ family.”
With a resume like that, it’s not surprising that Bailey is up for the Hero Dog Award from the American Humane Association. And she’s got a good chance at capturing the title.
”What makes Bailey so remarkable is her will to serve and do good deeds,” Paul said. “Like many dogs in our program, she wants to take that extra initiative and work as hard as she can because she loves her handler.”
Paul paused for a second.
”And she loves food.”