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The Life


After samples are collected, Kaimi sniffs the samples again to make sure they contain accelerants. The arson specialist is performance fed, meaning he’s given food throughout the day for tasks accomplished, instead of regular meals. Depending on how many tasks they do, Kaimi might eat 80 times a day, but only small amounts each time. When not at a fire, Perreira does about 60-80 drills a day with Kaimi, varying the amount and types of drills daily. For instance, he might go to a warehouse and hide canisters of accelerants for the dog to find. Perreira and Kaimi often perform demonstrations at community events. In October, they’ll be at Hawai‘i Fire Department’s Fire Prevention Week event in Hilo. Perreira is also working on a children’s book about Kaimi that he can read to students when he visits schools. Perreira notes that there have been instances when the fire department’s arson canine and one of the police department’s narcotics dogs worked a scene together. Kaimi worked the scene for arson and the HPD canine sniffed for drugs. Hawai‘i Police Department has a long history using narcotics dogs, says Captain Randall Medeiros, noting that the drug sniffing canine program dates back more than 20 years. The dogs are trained to detect a variety of drugs, including heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana. Medeiros says the dogs have led to the arrest of criminals whom they otherwise wouldn’t have caught. Scent-discriminating tracking dogs, or search dogs as they are commonly called, are newer to the department, says Medeiros. HPD received its first search dog—a bloodhound—about seven years ago. The department has a total of seven canines: five drug sniffing dogs—three in Kona and two in Hilo—and two search dogs—one each in Hilo and Kona. The HPD canines vary in age, gender and breed, although several of the dogs are Labrador retrievers. Like other working dogs, they retire when they’re about 10 years old. They are fed regular meals and given treats when they perform a task. The police canines don’t necessarily live with their handler— some live at a police station. For instance, Magnum, a two-year-old Lab who joined the department in July, is the search dog for West Hawai‘i. He is housed at the Kealakehe police station, but will eventually live with his handler, Officer Robert Sakata.

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hey may look like any other dogs, but Kaimi can tell if a fire was intentionally set. Nalu can tell if you have drugs in your car. If you’re lost, Magnum will find you, and if you’re trapped in rubble from a disaster, Nui will search for you. They are the unsung heroes of the Hawai‘i County Fire Department, Police Department, and Hawai‘i State Civil Defense Urban Search and Rescue Canine Unit. These hard-working dogs epitomize the phrase “man’s best friend”—happily taking on the roles of tracking missing persons, detecting arson fires, and sniffing out narcotics. Each agency varies in how they acquire the dogs and how the canines are trained, but the dogs’ individual specializations do not vary. For instance, a cadaver dog isn’t used in arson cases and a narcotics dog isn’t used to search for a missing person. Four-year-old Kaimi, Hawai‘i County Fire Department’s sole arson canine, is trained to seek out accelerants used in residential, vehicle and wildland fires. Hawai‘i County is the only fire department in the state to have such a dog. Since May 2008 the former shelter dog and his handler, Captain Robert Perreira, have responded to 72 fires, including four on other islands. While not every fire they respond to is arson, “if the accelerant is there he’ll find it,” says Perreira. “His sense of smell is awesome.” Unlike the police department’s canines, which were born and bred to be working dogs, Kaimi was rescued after having been abandoned at a shelter as a puppy. A shelter worker took notice of him and notified the local fire investigator, who in turn saw the dog’s training potential and alerted a national arson dog training program in Maine. Kaimi went through months of training at a facility in Illinois before joining the program in Maine. Around the same time, Hawai‘i Fire Department received a grant from State Farm Insurance to acquire an arson dog, and Kaimi came to work in Hawai‘i. “All the costs were covered by State Farm Insurance,” says Perreira. “In addition to Kaimi’s training, they covered all my training and travel expenses to the mainland.” Because the work of arson dogs and their handlers is crucial in trials and other legal documentation, both must annually go through recertification. Kaimi lives and works with Perreira 24 hours a day. “He knows when I’m getting ready for work. He gets all excited. When we get to a fire scene, he can smell it and gets excited. He wants to find what he’s looking for.” “They [arson dogs] are trained to find the source,” explains Perreira. When he and Kaimi arrive at a fire they walk the scene and identify any areas where Kaimi detects something.

Hawai‘i State Civil Defense Urban Search & Rescue Canine Unit dog—Nui—on rubble training pile on O‘ahu – Photo courtesy of Hawai‘i State Civil Defense

September-October 2011  
September-October 2011