ASU explosives detection canine helps protect University, Valley

Every day, ASU police Detective Parker Dunwoody comes to work with his best friend, a 55-pound yellow labrador retriever named Disney.

No ordinary dog, Disney can detect more than 19,000 different combinations of explosives, according to her Facebook page, and is a certified Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives explosives detection canine. "There are three ATF dogs in the Valley," Dunwoody said. "These are single purpose explosives detection canines." Before Disney arrived at ASU in 2009, she served in Puppies Behind Bars, a program where inmates train and care for puppies. After graduating from that program, she went into ATF training, Dunwoody said.

"She did her six weeks of imprinting training after (Puppies Behind Bars)," he said. "And then we did another 10 weeks of handler-canine training. That covered everything. Any possible scenario they tried to cover so that the dog and the handler are aware of what’s going on out in the real world."

Disney sits while Detective Dunwoody explains the training and testing Disney had to go through to become an explosives detection k-9.  Disney and her handler Parker Dunwoody must train everyday to keep their skill in top shape in case an emergency comes around. (Photo by Katie Dunphy) Disney sits while detective Parker Dunwoody explains the training and testing Disney had to go through to become an explosives detection canine. Disney and Dunwoody must train every day to keep their skill in top shape in case an emergency comes around. (Photo by Katie Dunphy)

Dunwoody said at first, Disney backed away from him, as she was previously located in a women's prison.

"I go up to the kennel, and Disney backs away," he said. "So I get down in there, and I put my hand down and let her smell it, and then her ears kind of perk up and she starts wagging her tail, and then I let her kiss me on the face and from there on we were best friends."

Dunwoody cares for Disney 24/7. She stays in his home and rides with him to work every day.

He said she easily fit into his family alongside his two-year-old son, dog and, until recently, a cat.

"My cat set the tempo," he said. "Disney had never really seen cats before, but when she came into the house, she realized that my cat was the boss, so that was kind of interesting. But all of my animals they get along great. They play, and they’re all part of the family."

Disney's day-to-day duties include inspecting the Metro Light Rail, training and patrolling events, depending on the day, Dunwoody said.

"We assist the U.S. Marshals Service a lot with a lot of protection details," he said. "Sometimes we have special events, like football games. Disney and I’ve worked the Cardinals games. We’ve worked ASU football games. We worked the Super Bowl in 2010. We’ve done protection details for former presidents. We’ve done large scale venues like the U.S. Open. It could be anything that happens."

Disney trains multiple times a day, every day of the week so that she can maintain a healthy diet, Dunwoody said.

"Disney is a food reward dog, so she only gets fed when she finds something," he said. "So I have to work seven days a week to make sure that she gets her daily complement of food."

During training, Disney sniffs for odors that could be explosives or weapons. When she finds one, she is rewarded with food.

Dunwoody said he also hides distracting odors that might throw Disney off, but she has always been fast at recognizing the correct odors.

"She's got a great nose," he said.

One of the biggest cases involving Disney was the J. T. Ready murders, Dunwoody said. In 2012, police believed Ready killed four people and himself in a Gilbert home.

"Disney was called to support that crime scene, and we actually located explosives in the garage," he said.

Disney was also called down to support the Gabrielle Giffords shooting in Tucson, but the FBI took over the crime scene by the time they got there, Dunwoody said.

Although Disney resides with the ASU Police Department, she also assists in local, state and federal affairs because she is an ATF asset.

"Because she is an ATF dog, she is a federal asset and she can be called to go anywhere," he said.

Disney works local events in the Valley and even works with other dogs, like Tempe's dual-purpose canines, Dunwoody said.

"We support anything local," he said. "If anybody has anything that we need to help out with, we do."

Christopher Speranza, Police Commander at the Downtown campus, put together the ASU canine program.

"I was lucky enough to have fun and put it together," he said.

Creating the program took a great amount of research, Speranza said.

"I had to do a lot of research and contact various other agencies to figure out what they do, what worked well, what didn’t, what they would do next time different," he said. "And then (I had to) write a policy that coincided with what ATF believed how we should be handling the dog."

Speranza said Disney is a good resource for ASU police, not just for her practical uses but for the added relationship with the community.

"Sometimes it’s nice to be walking around with a dog and have people actually stop and they want to talk to you, where sometimes when you’re actually walking around in a uniform, they kind of want to shy and turn away from you," he said.

The original decision to start a canine program at ASU came from Chief of Police John Pickens.

"I was contacted by the Special Agent in Charge (at the) Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives about the program and partnership in 2009 to see if I was interested," Pickens said in an email. "Due to the fact that ASU hosts a large number of sporting events and other activities, it provided another method of providing security."

Pickens said Disney offers a further connection to the community.

"Disney has had a very positive impact on ASU and Valley communities," he said. "She does more than detect explosives; she allows people to play with her. She is like a 'rock star' on campus."

After Disney retires, Pickens said he hopes to have another explosives detection canine at ASU.

"It is my hope that the partnership continues with (ATF) and we get a replacement," he said.

Disney still has a few solid years left until she must retire, which usually happens around the 10-year mark, Dunwoody said.

Until then, Dunwoody will continue his daily routine with Disney.


"That is the whole reason why I got into law enforcement," he said. "I’m a dog person. I’ve had dogs all my life. And to be able to go to work with a dog is not work, it’s just having a good time and gettin’ stuff done."


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