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Man's best friend - arsonists' worst nightmare


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Fire Scene

Fort Scott, Kansas is a typical Midwestern community where families have lived for generations and, like so many other towns across America, crime has broken down the sense of peace and calm for local residents.


On Oct. 13, 2011 at 9:51 pm, Bourbon County Emergency Dispatch received a 9-1-1 call. A male caller could be heard hysterically, and unintelligibly, screaming about a house fire. The operator asked, "Sir?" and "Hello?" several times, but there was no response.


A short while later, a second 9-1-1 call was made. The caller identified himself as Brent Bollinger. Bollinger screamed that “his wife was in the house and he had no way to get her out”. The Kansas Highway Patrol, Bourbon County Sheriff's Office, Fort Scott Fire Department, and supporting rural fire departments were dispatched to the scene.


As the 9-1-1 dispatch center was taking the second call, Captain Dale Bollinger and a lieutenant with the Fort Scott Fire Department were preparing to leave for the fire scene. Captain Bollinger knew the location of the fire very well. It was where his son Brent, his daughter-in-law Brenna, and his grandson Bryson lived. As Captain Bollinger and his lieutenant departed for the scene, he called other family members and told them get to the house to check on Brent and his family.


Upon arriving at the scene, Captain Bollinger saw Brent outside and learned he had already taken Bryson next door to the home of Mary Bollinger, Brent's grandmother. Brent had been running across the yard screaming "Brenna's in there". He said he had gotten gas on his clothes while cutting wood earlier in the day and had lit a cigarette, igniting the gas and starting the fire.


Brent’s uncle had already entered the house and yelled for Brent and Brenna but received no response. He couldn’t get upstairs because of the intense smoke, heat, and flames so he exited the burning house.


Captain Bollinger stated to investigators he could see fire in the window of the bedroom that belonged to his grandson but there were no flames coming out anywhere else in the house. He broke down the locked front door and with nozzle and hose in hand, entered the house. He could see the stairwell and a significant amount of smoke. Captain Bollinger went to the top of the steps and down the hallway. It was then that he made a tragic discovery.


In Bryson’s bedroom was the body of Brenna Bollinger.


Brent Bollinger survived the fire but suffered burns to 69% of his body. Bryson, Brent’s son, had second and third degree burns on his head, face and neck. The child was flown to Shriners Children's Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio with critical burns while Brent was transported to Mercy Hospital in Fort Scott. Brenna Bollinger lost her life in the fire.


Later that evening, Rose Rozmiarek, chief investigator with the Kansas State Fire Marshal's office, was notified about the situation. Rozmiarek, a law enforcement veteran with more than 30 years’ experience, is a specialist in fire and explosion investigations. “I get a call from the Kansas Highway Patrol and they’re telling me about a house fire in Southeast, KS and that there is a fatality involved,” Rozmiarek recalls. “Because there is a fatality involved, we will respond immediately, no matter what the hours of day - night or morning.” She immediately sent a fire investigator to assist in determining the cause and origin of the fire.


Once he arrived at the Bollinger home, the fire investigator began taking photographs of the scene, taking close-up photos of anything of significance in the yard, the condition of the house and any fire or burn patterns. Inside the house, he noted smoke damage and deposits on the ceiling in the living room, the dining room and in the kitchen. Water used to fight the fire was found in the basement.


Brent Bollinger had told first responders he had been using a chainsaw to cut firewood and spilled gasoline on his pants. When he was in the house, he said he had lit a cigarette, igniting his pants. Significant fire damage appeared to indicate the fire originated in Bryson’s bedroom however fire damage and debris in the upstairs bathroom and hallway were not consistent with Brent Bollinger’s explanation of how the fire had started. The initial findings puzzled fire investigators and they knew that they needed a specialist to solve this case.


After describing the burn patterns and fire damage, Rozmiarek was contacted and she was asked to bring along her partner to determine whether or not the fire that killed Brenna Bollinger was accidental or intentional. Rozmiarek and her partner, K-9 Tana, jumped into their vehicle and headed to the scene.


“I get a call from the Kansas Highway Patrol and they’re telling me about a house fire in Southeast, KS and that there is a fatality involved,” Rozmiarek recalls. “Because there is a fatality involved, we will respond immediately. No matter what the hours of day - night or morning.”


Arson Dog Training Program

Many people assume arson fires do not affect them if the fire did not damage their own property, however, arson fires can have a significant impact on the property values of all structures in the neighborhood. This crime results in increased taxes to support law enforcement and fire departments. It also causes an increase in insurance premiums for area property owners. If a fire is not determined to be intentional, many times an insurance company covers the damage. The more insurance companies pay out, the higher rates are for everyone buying insurance. When you add on indirect costs such as lost jobs, lost property tax revenue and tax dollars spent to investigate and prosecute arson cases, the cost of arson jumps even higher.


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As the nation’s largest homeowners’ insurer, State Farm is well aware of the severity and impact of arson on businesses and public safety. Because arson fires can be difficult to gather evidence for, and prove, the number of actual arson fires is often underreported.



arson dogs nose


In 1992, when a canine team assisted in the investigation of a property fire in South Carolina, State Farm became aware of a program that trained dogs to find evidence of arson. Maine State Police Trooper, Paul Gallagher, had trained the dog and handler in South Carolina. State Farm was impressed with the Maine State Police accelerant detection canine program and began to sponsor and expand the program nationally.


first arson dog class


Since the first State Farm Arson Dog Program class was held in February 1993, nearly 350 accelerant detection canine teams have been trained for fire investigation and placed in 44 U.S. states, 3 Canadian provinces and the District of Columbia. Outside of state or federal agencies, there is no other company in North America providing funding for the acquisition and training of accelerant detection canines.


fast fact scholarships


An accelerant detection canine, or arson dog, refers to a canine trained to detect and locate trace amounts of ignitable liquids, hydrocarbon-based fuels such as gasoline, diesel fuel, kerosene, turpentine, butane, and other flammable solvents. While dogs have been trained for years to detect bombs and narcotics, training canines to detect accelerants– any substance or mixture that "accelerates" the development of fire to commit arson – was still a relatively new concept when State Farm began funding the training of accelerant detection canines several decades ago.



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Canines possess capabilities humans cannot duplicate, or often even comprehend. Your average dog’s nose is tens of thousands of times more sensitive to odors than a human nose. Dogs can detect some odors in parts per trillion. Dogs possess up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, compared to about six million in humans. The part of a dog's brain that is devoted to analyzing smells is, proportionally speaking, 40 times greater than ours.


arson dogs nose


The use of dogs has drastically changed law enforcement and fire investigation because of the time savings and the reduction in sample collecting. A human investigator may take days, sometimes weeks, to investigate a scene. Many times this results in overtime pay or worse, deterioration of evidence. During this time, the arson investigator will collect numerous samples from the fire scene for lab testing to identify possible accelerants. Because canines have a superior ability to discriminate among scents at a fire scene, an arson dog can investigate a scene in minutes and take fewer samples to the laboratory for testing. This not only speeds up the investigation, it also saves money for the investigating department – fewer lab samples means less cost for taxpayers.


Accelerant detection canine teams investigate an average of 90 - 100 structure fires each year so based on laboratory costs alone, communities can save a considerable amount of taxpayer dollars when a canine team is available. It is important to note that a canine is not meant to replace human fire investigators. An accelerant detection canine is only a tool, providing assistance to investigators because they can work through an entire fire scene in a matter of minutes.


“Hey! Control That Dog!”
The first day of training begins.


For over two decades, Paul Gallagher, owner and head trainer of Maine Specialty Dogs, has led the training of accelerant detection canine teams in the State Farm Arson Dog Program. Trooper Gallagher joined the Maine State Police in 1976 and during his tenure, was assigned rural patrol duties before being assigned to the Canine Unit in 1982. By 1986, he became the trainer/supervisor of the Canine Unit and two years later, developed the accelerant detection canine training program for the State of Maine. In 1993, he trained the first teams for the State Farm program and upon his retirement in 1996, he began training canines and handlers for the State Farm Arson Dog Program full-time. He remains a certified canine trainer according to Maine Criminal Justice Academy standards and completes a re-certification annually to maintain this status, as does his team of stellar trainers.


Canines in the State Farm Arson Dog Program are trained by using Pavlovian techniques. Several months before meeting their handler, the dogs are imprinted with the odor of evaporated gasoline. A positive response by the canine is indicated when the canine assumes a "sit" position in the presence of an ignitable liquid. This is called a “passive alert”. The benefit to this type of training is the canine sits and indicates with his/her nose at the exact location of the flammable liquid, thus leaving the evidence undisturbed. This aids in evidence collection integrity. The response is reinforced by food reward and lots of praise. Food reward training means the dog only eats when working a fire scene or completing training drills multiple times a day, every day. They only eat from the hand of their handler, never from a bowl.


arson dog waiting for food reward


The Labrador retriever is the dog of choice because of its curiosity, high energy, tracking ability, ease of training and sociability. Dogs considered for the program are screened and chosen because of their friendly and outgoing nature as well as their strong prey and food drive. These dogs have an instinctive inclination to find, pursue and capture prey; they aren’t aggressive but are enthusiastic about working and highly motivated by food. These dogs are obtained from a variety of sources including animal shelters, guide dog or disability programs and animal rescue organizations. These are called “career change” or “second career” canines, meaning these dogs didn’t qualify for a companion or guide dog program but had the needed skills for another job. In essence, these dogs have a second chance to serve their communities.


“We Got a New Dog”
Dogs and handlers are introduced to each other.


Once the handler and department agree to attend 4-5 weeks (200 hours) of training in Alfred, Maine at the training academy, the critical work of developing the trust and bond between human and canine begins. The canine has, at this point, had several months of training and knows what job needs to be done. It is the handler who must learn to recognize the signals of their canine partner.


At a fire scene, the dog is directed to begin working by the “seek” command and it will search until the odor of accelerant is detected. The dog then moves toward the source in a more concentrated search pattern until it is located. The handler will feed the dog before marking the location of the alert. Samples are collected from the fire scene by an evidence technician and rechecked by the canine team prior to sealing the evidence container to ensure the evidence technician has collected the debris sample from the proper location in relation to the canine alert.


arson learning seek command


A canine alert does not prove or disprove that ignitable liquids were used in the commission of a crime, arson or unlawful burning. Samples must be collected by a qualified evidence technician and confirmed by the crime laboratory to determine if the samples contain ignitable liquids. Fire/arson investigators, canine handlers and chemists must work in concert to corroborate each other in order to establish a crime has been committed. The dog is a tool to locate evidence efficiently and effectively but it is ultimately up to the arson investigator to gather information before presenting findings to a prosecutor.


Evidence the dog and handler uncovers can become a key factor in civil and criminal trials. Canine handlers must document and maintain accurate daily training records for court purposes. Having credible evidence can make or break any criminal investigation. The skill and continuous training of the arson dog team is critical when submitting or defending evidence in court. In order to maintain credibility and demonstrate their skill for the court system, arson canine teams in the State Farm program are required to be annually recertified. Recertification consists of a demanding three-day schedule including testing the skills of the dogs in locating accelerants and testing the handlers’ supervision of their canine partner before being recertified for another year.


CLICK HERE to learn more about the 80 Arson Dog teams across the U.S. and Canada

map of arson dog teams locations


Chief Investigator Rose Rozmiarek and her accelerant detection dog, K-9 Tana, arrived at the fire scene less than twelve hours after the initial 9-1-1 call. Initial findings by investigators determined that the fire was suspicious in nature. An administrative search warrant had already been obtained, allowing Investigator Rozmiarek and K-9 Tana to enter the premise to investigate the fire's origin and cause.


K-9 Tana was left in the vehicle while Rozmiarek entered the house to conduct a safety walkthrough and identify potentially dangerous areas for her dog and herself. She found one such location in the house, a hole burned through the floor near a wall in Bryson’s bedroom. Rozmiarek went back to her vehicle, put the food pouch on, placed a leash on K-9 Tana, and then told her that it was “time to work”.

“She made an alert right inside the door way along the baseboard and she made an alert along the left wall. There was actually a small hole there,” Rozmiarek states. “She made an alert in the area of the bed, and three alerts around the victim.”

They began their investigation by first walking around inside the fire scene so that K-9 Tana can get comfortable at the scene. During this “walk-around”, K-9 Tana is becoming acclimated to the scene and to various smells that may be present. Once Investigator Rozmiarek gives K-9 Tana the command to “seek”, she will put her nose down and begin sniffing for evidence. They began on the front porch of the house before moving into the living room and up the staircase. As Rozmiarek moved into Bryson’s bedroom, K-9 Tana alerted near the bed and around the hole in the floor. “She made an alert right inside the door way along the baseboard and then she made an alert along the left wall. There was actually a small hole there,” Rozmiarek states. “She made an alert in the area of the bed and three alerts around Brenna Bollinger’s body.” It was becoming clear some type of accelerant had been spilled or poured in multiple locations around the room with a concentration of accelerant located around Brenna Bollinger. Rozmiarek and K-9 Tana exited the room and informed other investigators where Tana had alerted. With this information, investigators requested a criminal search warrant in order to gather evidence a crime had occurred.


As Rozmiarek and K-9 Tana searched outside, investigators began removing fire debris slowly, layer by layer, eventually getting down to the bare floor. After the debris was examined and removed, investigators could determine if there was a burn pattern on the floor. Investigators photographed burn patterns on the floor next to where Brenna's body had lain consistent with liquid being thrown in a room and set on fire. K-9 Tana was brought back inside to conduct a second search of the house. Beginning with the downstairs living room, she alerted to the edge of a small child's table. Moving upstairs, K-9 Tana alerted near the bathroom sink located off the hallway. In Bryson’s bedroom, she once again alerted to all of the previous locations in the area of the bed and where Brenna’s body had been. With the debris removed from the room, she alerted near the doorway to the room and on the carpet.


With the upper levels of the house completed, K-9 Tana began searching the lower level of the house. “We went down into the basement and you could see where the hole was from the child’s bedroom. Some fire debris and water had come down from that area.” This wasn’t unusual given water was used to extinguish the fire the day before, however, K-9 Tana alerted to the puddle beneath the hole in Bryon’s bedroom. “This identified that there was an enough accelerant placed in the room of origin, that when the fire department put out the fire, it was washed down into the basement,” explains Rozmiarek. Technicians gathered samples from all the locations K-9 Tana had alerted and sent to a lab for confirmation and identification. “Just because we find accelerant does not necessarily mean we have a crime of arson,” cautions Rozmiarek. “There are a lot of other factors that we go into before actually making the call that we have an incendiary fire and a crime of arson.”


map of where tana alerted to accelerant

At Home

One of the perks of being an arson dog handler is being able to take your canine partner home with you. These canines live in the home with their handler therefore the most important consideration for any arson dog handler is their family and making sure everyone in the house understands and supports the commitment. Family members may be asked to assist with arson dog demonstrations or with training drills. They have to get used to having a dog that may smell like smoke coming home after an investigation. More importantly, they must be aware there will always be an element of danger because the dog and handler are investigating deadly crimes.


“I Welcomed it with Open Arms”
Spouses and families are part of the team, too.


The commitment that accelerant detection canine handlers make is enormous because even on days off or during vacations, they still have to train their dog in order to feed their dog. Unlike a typical dog owner, these men and women can’t simply put a bowl of food down for their dog. Their canine partner is trained with food reward so the handler must run training drills multiple times a day to feed their dog and then document this training in detail. If they aren’t feeling well, are tired or busy with other commitments, they still have to run training drills to feed their dog, every single day, multiple times during the day. This also means that they can’t place their dog in a kennel or hire a dog sitter when they are away from home or go on vacation. Since they are food reward dogs, they can’t be fed by just anyone so handlers often take their canine partner with them on vacation.


“The Commitment at Home”
Taking Tana on as a member of the family.

After a difficult and emotional investigation, such as the fire that Rozmiarek and K-9 Tana worked on in Fort Scott, it is therapeutic to go home with your partner. Handlers will give their dog a bath to wash off the dirt and grime from the fire scene but sometimes they just need to lie down on the couch and cuddle with their canine partner. Witnessing crime and death is emotionally draining for even the most seasoned investigators. A dog can sense this so whether it is playing fetch or resting their head in their handlers’ lap, these dogs can switch gears in an instant from arson dog to therapy dog when needed.


The Trial

Over the next few months, law enforcement investigators from the Bourbon County Sheriff's Office, Fort Scott Police Department, Kansas Fire Marshal's Office and Kansas Bureau of Investigation gathered evidence and conducted witness interviews. Two-year old Bryson Bollinger remained at Shriners Children's Hospital in Ohio for a month recovering from critical burns as a result of the fire. Brent Bollinger remained at University of Kansas Medical Center for seven weeks.


The autopsy results showed Brenna Bollinger had injuries on her neck and throat consistent with strangulation; however, she was still alive when the fire started. She died as a result of thermal injuries and smoke inhalation from the fire. Investigators received laboratory reports from the samples taken where K-9 Tana had alerted.


Every sample K-9 Tana alerted to in the house was confirmed to be gasoline

With mounting evidence against him, Brent Bollinger was arrested and charged with first degree murder for the death of his wife Brenna Bollinger, aggravated child endangerment for the critical burns sustained by his two-year old son Bryson and aggravated arson for starting the fire and putting his family at substantial risk of serious physical harm. His bond was set at $1 million dollars.

Brent Bollinger pled not guilty

During the trial, Chief Investigator Rose Rozmiarek took the stand to explain her work as a certified accelerant detection canine handler and what evidence was alerted to by her partner, K-9 Tana. She also explained while the dog will alert to the presence of a liquid accelerant, Tana can’t tell her the difference between gasoline, diesel fuel or kerosene. That determination can only be made by laboratory identification. She further explained to the court the dog is a tool for investigators.


Brent Bollinger took the stand to explain the events leading up to the fire and death of his wife nearly two years earlier. He testified their marriage had “ups and downs” and Brent acknowledged he had become aware she wanted out of the marriage. They reconciled after a planned divorce in 2010 but the reconciliation was short lived. Brent acknowledged in court he and Brenna argued on a regular basis and less than a week prior to the house fire, he had an argument on the phone with Brenna and as a result, burned some of her clothes in the backyard. On Tuesday October 11, 2011, Brenna Bollinger filed for divorce. Two days later she was found dead and her son was critically injured.


Based on interviews with witnesses, burn patterns noted at the scene and K-9 Tana’s alerts and lab confirmations, it was determined that an accelerant was used to start the fire. Said Rozmiarek, “if his story was true (spilled gasoline on his clothes and then lit a cigarette), we would not be finding evidence of accelerants along the baseboards, near the bed, or near the victim and it wouldn’t be a high enough concentration for that gasoline to be washed away by the water and drip down into the basement. With all that information, we were able to discredit the suspects’ explanation as to what happened and how the fire started.”


On Tana’s performance in the investigation, Rozmiarek says, “This was her biggest case that she’s ever worked. This one is important because her alerts were able to diffuse and put doubt into the suspects testimony and his story.”

Angry and upset his wife Brenna had filed for divorce and was “moving on with her life”, Brent Bollinger confronted his wife in their son’s bedroom on the evening of October 13, 2011. After incapacitating her, he doused gasoline in the room to cover up the crime, picked up his son Bryson and ignited the fire. The amount of gasoline in the room inadvertently caught Brent and Bryson on fire, resulting in severe burns to both of them.


Bourbon County jury convicts Bollinger


Following eight hours of deliberation, on September 18, 2013, a Bourbon County jury found Brent Bollinger guilty of first-degree felony murder, aggravated arson and aggravated child endangerment. Two months later Brent Bollinger was sentenced to life in prison. He is currently held at the Kansas Department of Corrections and will be eligible for parole in 2039. “That the suspect blatantly set the house on fire, killed his wife, and injured his son…that played with a lot of people’s emotions,” said Rozmiarek. “When you’re dealing injuries to children… those cases get to everybody. Knowing that were able to resolve this case and get answers, we know the community was glad we were able to do that.”



Awards and recognition for law enforcement have been around for many years but what about the dogs that assist the investigators? The American Humane Association (AHA) recognized a need to celebrate the devoted relationship between dogs and people so, in 2010, the Hero Dog Awards were created. This annual national competition searches out and recognizes America’s Hero Dogs – often ordinary dogs who do extraordinary things, whether it’s saving lives on the battlefield, lending sight or hearing to a human companion, or simply the tail-wagging welcome a pet owner relishes at the end of a hard day.


In 2011, Jerry Means and K-9 Sadie with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) won the title of top Law Enforcement/Arson Dog category in the United States. Trained through the State Farm Arson Dog Program, K-9 Sadie investigated more than 500 arson fires in her career and educated an untold number of children in Colorado about fire safety. Her remarkable career even resulted in a children’s book being published called “Sadie: The Dog Who Finds the Evidence”. K-9 Sadie was retired from service in April 2014 and her replacement, K-9 Riley, now goes to fire investigations with Agent Means, leaving K-9 Sadie plenty of time to nap.

sadie and jerry means


When the nomination period for the Hero Dog Awards began in March 2014, hundreds of canines from all across the country were nominated in each of the eight categories. The Arson Dog category had eighteen canines nominated for the award. One of those dogs was none other than K-9 Tana, nominated by her department because of the incredible work she did in sniffing out evidence in the Fort Scott arson/murder investigation. “When she was nominated for the Hero Dog Awards, it was an honor,” Rozmiarek says. “She got even more publicity on a local level. I think that nomination brought more awareness about these dogs and the training program.” After nearly five months of online voting, the winner of the Arson Dog category was chosen and while K-9 Tana did not win, another dog who graduated from the State Farm Arson Dog program did. Her name is K-9 Kai.

“I think the more times we can get out and talk to the public and talk to the kids I think they’re realizing the importance of these dogs and the work that we do,” Rozmiarek conveys.

Abandoned by her family in 2009, a stray Labrador retriever was found wandering the streets of Bloomington, IL and was taken to the local animal shelter before the Humane Society of Central Illinois stepped in and picked up the young lab because she was energetic and adoptable. Named Ellie, volunteers noticed the dog digging determinedly through a large box of toys, looking for the tennis ball and ignoring the rest of the toys.


That single-minded focus saved her life.


justin davis and arson k-9 kai


An employee of the Humane Society of Central Illinois contacted a State Farm Arson Dog Program trainer who, after assessing the skills of the dog, entered her immediately into the program. In 2010, Ellie – now named K-9 Kai – met her new handler, Investigator Justin Davis, and they became the accelerant detection canine team for the San Antonio Fire Department. To date, K-9 Kai has worked 200 fire- and bomb-related investigations across San Antonio and Bexar County, Texas. In addition to a regular caseload, she accompanies Investigator Davis to local appearances at schools about fire safety to and to college level forensic classes. "I am proud Kai is being recognized nationally. The success of Kai is a direct result of the many people who recognized how special she was from her time spent in the shelter to now," says Davis. "Kai is the perfect example of what a dog can do when put into the right situation."


“In Tribute to Kai”
Video featuring Kai from the Hero Dog Awards



The relationship between American Humane and the State Farm Arson Dog Program doesn’t end with the Hero Dog Awards. When Jerry Means and K-9 Sadie won the inaugural Law Enforcement/Arson Dog category in 2011, it sparked a discussion about recognizing the contribution of arson dogs and their handlers beyond a televised awards show.


Jerry had been talking with his friends at Willow Run Feed Supply about an idea to create a national monument dedicated to arson dog teams. When K-9 Sadie won the Hero Dog Awards, the idea moved from the planning stage to reality. Financial support from local supporters, American Humane, and State Farm allowed the monument to be created as a way to acknowledge the service of accelerant detection canines and their handlers in communities where they serve.


the national fire dog monument


The National Fire Dog Monument, titled “From Ashes to Answers”, was created by Colorado firefighter and sculptor Austin Weishel. Austin is a firefighter with the Windsor/Severance Fire Department in Colorado. He is also one of the youngest sculptors to have a monument placed in our nation’s capital.


The National Fire Dog Monument was officially dedicated on October 23, 2013 and now resides outside of Fire Station #2 at 500 F Street NW in Washington, DC. The bronzed sculpture depicts a firefighter looking down at his dog who in turns gazes back into the eyes of his handler, ready to go to work at a moment’s notice.


On the heels of the National Fire Dog Monument recognition this year, celebrity dog trainer Victoria Stilwell (It's Me or the Dog, Animal Planet) stepped outside of her traditional role as a companion canine trainer to learn more about accelerant detection canine training, creating a new web series called “Arson Dogs”. The training methods used by Maine Specialty Dogs to train these working dogs are in line with her ideology of reward-based and force-free dog training. "The idea that stronger, more driven dogs need a heavier hand in training is something I've spent my career trying to debunk, so I am thrilled to show our audience the true power of positive training with even these Ferraris of the dog world," says Stilwell.


victoria stillwell training arson dog


The new multi-episode web series premiered the summer of 2014 and can be found exclusively on Stilwell's YouTube channel and the media center on her Positively.com website.


Over the course of series, Stilwell explores the 3-person training team, 8 young dogs-in-training and 8 handlers with varying degrees of experience from all over the US. Stilwell steps in as a surrogate trainee as well, getting an up-close view of the pressure experienced by the new recruits. Upon their graduation from the program, she follows a few of the dog/handler teams back to their communities to watch them work in real-life situations.


Victoria Stilwell Positively
Arson Dogs Trailer

After all the hard work is completed and all of the accolades have been received, a dog really just wants to be a dog. Most canines begin working when they are 18 months old and continue working for many years. The most difficult point in any handlers’ career is accepting when their partner is ready to be retired. While some dogs retire after five years of service, others work until they are eleven or twelve years old.


The decision to retire a dog depends on many factors such as age, health, or a decreased interest in working. The most important consideration is always the quality of life for the dog. After many years of investigating fires, conducting public demonstrations and training multiple times a day, handlers want their partner to enjoy being a dog.


Retired arson dogs remain in the home of the handler or the handlers’ family and, for the first time since the dogs began working, they get to eat out of a food bowl. They have certainly earned the rest and relaxation because without these canine heroes, our communities would be considerably less safe.


resting arson k-9


When they aren’t finding evidence for a fire investigation, canine teams are conducting demonstrations for schools, civic organizations and at public events to raise awareness about fire safety and crime prevention. Accelerant detection canines are outgoing and friendly so public demonstrations are important when it comes to building awareness and community outreach. “I think the more times we can get out and talk to the public and talk to the kids, they’re realizing the importance of these dogs and the work that we do,” Rozmiarek conveys.

“The other role K-9 Tana plays for our department is she helps with public relations. It shows that we have a commitment to our communities, state wide. And we bring these dogs out not only to talk about what they do but what but what our agency does and how we are there for their communities.”