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First ASU police dog is hanging up her badge and vest in July

The K-9 unit's inaugural member will retire in July after years of service

disney police dog

"Say hello to the first ASU police dog, Disney." Illustration published March 13, 2017.

After 250 deployments, about 60 public demonstrations and four "finds," the first ASU police dog will be retiring in July after eight years of service.

Disney is a labrador retriever and can detect explosives and gun powder with only a sniff. ASU police expected her to serve another year, however after having her gallbladder removed, she will retire a couple months early.

She is a food-reward dog, which means she only eats when she accomplishes a task. This means her handler, Cpl. Parker Dunwoody, sets up trainings daily in order for her to be fed.

Dunwoody received Disney in 2009 from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms after he was chosen to be the first in the ASU police department to receive a police dog. 

Disney trained at ATF's Canine Training Center. Dunwoody said Disney’s training consisted of thousands of repetitions of identifying different odors. When she identified an explosive odor, she would sit and receive food as a reward. 

To better train the dogs for what they would encounter on the job, the trainers place the dogs in different environments, such as vehicle searches, buried searches and special event venue searches, where they would detect certain smells. Dunwoody said Disney can identify over 19,000 combinations of explosive odors.

“My entire life has been with dogs, my uncle, when he was a police officer in New Jersey, had a drug-detecting dog and that really peaked my interest,” Dunwoody said. “Ever since I wanted to be a police officer, I wanted to work with a dog.”

The process to be selected as the handler for a police dog includes a test and a home visit that evaluates the officer's ability to care for the dog and the officer’s temperament. Dunwoody said because of his previous experience with training drug detector dogs on former assignments and volunteer work with local police departments, he was a top candidate to receive Disney.

“There’s no more rewarding job in the police department than this one,” Dunwoody said.

ASU sophomore and political science major Zachary Hertzberg said a police dog’s ability to smell so many different scents sets them apart from their human counterparts on the police force, and said the dogs' place on the force makes him feel safer on campus.

“Humans rely on visual aid, dogs rely on sense of smell, so a dog and police officer pairing is beneficial to the community,” Hertzberg said.

ASU Police Chief Michael Thompson said Disney has been an asset beyond just the ASU community, and she has been called upon by different agencies to assist in investigations.

The Gilbert Police Department called on her for help searching houses where there were suspicions of stored explosives. She has also been called to Texas for help during the Super Bowl. 

“Any large event where there’s going to be a lot of people and any kind of concern for public safety as far as guns or explosives, she would be called out,” Thompson said. “She would make sure the venue is safe for everyone to attend which is pretty amazing for a little dog.”

In 2015, a man robbed a Chandler bank, and in his attempt to escape he ended up in Tempe. Dunwoody and Disney went to assist in the investigation and, using her nose, Disney alerted on the suspect's gun. She also smelled the gun powder on the suspect’s car and on a movie ticket window, where the suspect attempted to shove the stolen money underneath. 

However, Disney’s job goes beyond patrol. Thompson said she also participates in classroom visits at schools and acts as an ambassador for the police department. 

“That was really critical when we pick our dogs, to make sure the dog is going to continue to be an ambassador for the department,” Thompson said.

While Disney was the first ASU police dog, she will not be the last. Recently, ASU police expanded its police dog program when it brought on Tillman, a German Shepherd and dual-purpose dog. Tillman is an explosive-detecting dog and is also trained in suspect apprehension. 

As Disney approaches retirement, the ASU Police Department looks forward to hopefully bringing on another dog. In retirement, Disney will live with Dunwoody, and the department has not counted out the possibility of her continuing to do classroom visits and acting as an ambassador for the police department.

“For the ASU Police Department one of the biggest things is we want a dog that has the drive to work,” Thompson said. "Other than that, she loves her ears scratched and she’s a regular dog, and she loves to rub on you and get hair all over your uniform. She’s just happy to do what she does.”

Related: ASU police welcome newest patrol dog, Tillman

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