MILLVILLE, N.J. — A New Jersey fire department’s pit bull just became the first of its breed to become an arson detection K9 officer.
Hansel, a 4-year-old pup known for his cheerful energy and constant kisses, graduated from training on Friday, officially becoming a member of the Millville Fire Department.
“He’s extremely excited,” Tyler Van Leer, a Millville firefighter and Hansel’s handler, told CNN. “Whenever I ask him, ‘Are you ready to go to work?’ and bring out the harness, he starts doing laps around the crate.”
Rescued from a dogfighting ring
Hansel was rescued from a dogfighting ring in Ontario, Canada, when he was only 7 weeks old.
A global campaign called #Savethe21 was created to fight against the euthanization of the 21 dog fighters, including Hansel’s mom, who were rescued from that ring.
Five of the rescued dogs, including Hansel and his sister Gretel, were later taken to Throw Away Dogs Project, a nonprofit organization in Philadelphia that rescues “unique” dogs and trains them to become K9s all over the country.
If Hansel hadn’t been rescued, he and his sister would have also become dog fighters, Carol Skaziak, the founder of Throw Away Dogs, told CNN.
Hansel trained with Throw Away Dogs for a year before enrolling in a 16-week K9 academy with his handler to become a certified arson detection K9 officer. Hansel was given to the Millville Fire Department, who was in need of an arson detection dog, at no cost.
“He was trained or imprinted on 14 different odors and once he was imprinted on all the odors, he was eligible to graduate,” Van Leer said.
Hansel is a single purpose arson detection K9, meaning he is specifically trained to identify ignitable liquids, such as kerosene, gasoline and diesel.
While the future hero will begin taking on jobs immediately, Hansel will also be available to aid other police and fire departments outside of Millville.
Part of his mission includes education to help the fire department teach students about fire prevention around the area.
Hansel is paving the way for other pit bulls
In addition to being a very good boy, Hansel is making history, according to Skaziak.
“I am 100% sure Hansel is the first pit bull arson detection dog in New Jersey,” Skaziak told CNN. “I have done so much research and I don’t believe there are any other pit bull arson detection dogs in the entire country. I have not found any others.”
CNN could not independently confirm that Hansel is the first pit bull to hold the position.
Van Leer and Skaziak believe that Hansel is paving the way for a brighter future for pit bulls as a breed.
Other departments that were in attendance of Hansel’s graduation and witnessed his progression over the past year have already expressed interest in bringing in other pit bulls as arson detection dogs, Van Leer said.
“We need police chiefs and fire chiefs around the country to want to do this too. This is the first step that could make a huge statement for this breed that has been so misunderstood,” Skaziak told CNN.
While Hansel is ready to help the Millville Fire Department save lives, the sweet pup is also busy bonding with his handler, now his best friend.
“We are just inseparable,” Van Leer said. “Everyone here are at the firehouse loves him. He is just an awesome dog. I wouldn’t ask for any other dog.”