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How This Rescue Dog Became a Porn Sniffing K-9 Unit

Utah police have added a former rescue dog trained to sniff out high-tech devices used for creating child porn to their force.

by Candace Bryan
Jun 27 2016, 8:55pm

Images Courtesy of Weber County Sheriff's Office

Utah's newest crime-fighting dog is black labrador trained to look for a special illicit substance: porn. The dog is named "URL," pronounced "Earl," and he has been trained to sniff out DVDs, memory cards, thumb drives, and other photo and video-storing devices. URL was recently acquired by the Weber County Sheriff's Office in northern Utah where his skills will be used to help authorities on child porn and other internet crime cases.

URL is similar to Bear, another labrador who made headlines in August 2015 for playing a crucial role in the arrest of former Subway spokesman Jared Fogle. Before his role as a service dog, though, URL was in the pound.

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"URL had been surrendered twice, because he was very uncontrollable, jumping up on furniture, and they said he was untrainable," URL's trainer Todd Jordan tells Broadly. "Those are the dogs I look for, the dogs no one else wants. These are dogs that want some sort of purpose, that get bored easily. I redirect their energy to something worthwhile."

Jordan has trained a total of six dogs to sniff out electronics. Four of Jordan's trainees currently serve task forces in Seattle, Texas, New York, and now Utah. The other two trained labs are in the process of being sold.

Dogs have be trained to sniff out drugs, bombs, and cell phones, but training porn-sniffing dogs has been a unique challenge.

Dennis Clark, the president of Tactical Detection K-9, who was involved in the training of Bear, tells Broadly, "To refine that process, and make it so they could sniff out any kind of device that contain photo memory, we took all those different kinds of devices—sim cards, thumb drives, hard drives—and found an alloy that's in each one of those. We separated that alloy and made it in a larger amount to use for training."

Clark says the dogs are crucial to these types of investigations, though, because often illegal images can be stored on devices "the size of a stamp," and investigators can struggle to find them. However, only a few dogs are up to the task.

"Before we even train, you have to get a dog that's very social, not skittish, friendly, and not scared by a lot of different environments," says Clark. "We need dogs who can go to a completely new environment, like tight spots, planes, cars, elevators, and act like everything's cool."

URL had been surrendered twice, because he was very uncontrollable, jumping up on furniture, and they said he was untrainable.

Only one out of every 25 dogs evaluated is deemed suitable for training. After that, Clark says, training electronic detection canines takes significantly longer than training drug-sniffing dogs. While a drug sniffing dog can be ready for work after four to six weeks of training, electronic detection dogs can take six to eight months before they're ready to hit the streets.

Once they're trained, "porn dogs" can sell for upward of $9000, but Clark says when you consider you can get eight to 10 years of service out of one dog, as well as the value they add to a task force, the cost is negligible.

After a few high-profile cases, including Jared Fogel, Jordan says the "market has exploded" and that every task force wants an electronic detection canine.

Dogs like URL and Bear bring a lot more to the table than their skilled noses, Jordan says. He says that when authorities are conducting in-home searches, labs can also help by de-escalating tense situations.

"When you have a lab there, kids are drawn to it and want to pet it. When you start interviewing kids, they can clam up, but if you bring the dog in, they can pet the dog and they open up more because they trust the dog," he explains.

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The dogs also help the mental health of investigators working on upsetting child porn cases.

"In the office, you have investigators who are sitting at the computer, looking at these files all day. They need to de escalate, too. You can bring the dog in the office—and they do this in Seattle with Bear—and the dog comes in and they have to give the dog attention, to turn away from their computer and play with him," says Jordan. "It helps out the office environment. Not just for the victims, but for investigators, too."