PROVO– While other officers were out on patrol or doing investigations, the newest members of the Provo Police Department spent Tuesday morning playing fetch.
Billy, a two-year-old golden retriever/labrador mix, and Zima, a three-year-old German Wirehair, joined the police department a month ago after they were donated to the Provo Police by the Department of Defense.
The two dogs will be employed as bomb dogs after they go through eight weeks of intensive training. The dogs were originally selected by the Department of Defense to be part of their K9 bomb squad, but Officer Drew Hubbard with the Provo Police Department says that Billy and Zima didn’t meet the rigourous standards set by the military and were put in a program that donates dogs to local police departments.
“We are very grateful to have this tool in our city,” Lt. Matt Siufanua said. “Last month we had four EOD calls and had to go outside to the county to get dogs. Now we have those tools here and immediate access when we need it.”
Officer Hubbard and Det. Bryce Lewis, both members of the Provo Police Bomb Squad, were selected as the handlers for the two dogs and will make Billy and Zima part of their families. Hubbard says the dogs will go through eight weeks of training where they use toys to train the dogs on 16 different smells associated with bombs, guns and other explosives.
“The toy will be the reward. They are trained and once they smell the explosive they know they get to play,” Hubbard said. “Even when out on jobs if they find anything they get a reward.”
Hubbard says the dogs will be useful in being more proactive about protecting the city, rather than waiting for something to happen. Siufanua says the dogs will be used at major events like the Utah Valley and Provo Marathons, the Freedom Festival and the Stadium of Fire, in addition to responding to everyday calls. Lewis says that now when calls of a suspicious package come in, they can send Billy or Zima in to smell the package and determine if it is dangerous rather than deploying the entire bomb squad to dispose of the package safely.
“This is going to be an awesome tool for the city,” Lewis said.
Through the program with the Department of Defense, Provo didn’t pay anything for the dogs, which typically cost between $5,000 and $10,000, but will have to pay for their training and care. Once Billy and Zima complete the eight-week training they will have to spend four hours a week in training to keep up their skills. Lewis says they will be taught to sniff out black powder, dynamite and a number of chemicals used to make homemade explosives.
But training the dogs isn’t always an easy task. Hubbard, who will be Zima’s handler, says she has a very high drive and harnessing that will be a challenge.
“She wants to do nothing but play and hunt,” Hubbard said. “We want her to be obedient but don’t want to subdue that drive. It will a challenge to harness that energy.” Zima had been picked to be a breeding dog for military but was let go after having a stillbirth and has no bomb training. Billy has minimal training in bomb detection but both dogs will start training in August.
“Billy and Zima will play an extremely valuable role in Provo,” said Mayor John Curtis, “Unfortunately we live in an increasingly dangerous world and we have to take a more proactive role in protecting our city.”
Billy and Zima bring the total number of bomb dogs in Utah County to five and 18 statewide. Siufanua says that both dogs will be used for calls throughout Utah County.