Knicely Done: It's a dog's (double) life

Published: Apr. 4, 2019 at 9:49 PM CDT
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It's a good thing the Sobotka family home includes a fenced backyard. When Michelle and Dave's three dogs head out the back door for some fresh air it's like a race track of activity.

"It's pretty crazy," said 13-year old Kenna Sobotka. "But we have fun with them."

The fun is trying to keep up with the dogs in a hopeless game of "catch me if you can."

"Alley like to run, just like me," said 7-year old Dylan.

Alley is a 4-year old yellow lab that is the newest member of the family.

"She definitely flips a switch when I come home," said Dave, an Omaha Fire Investigator. "I get to take my uniform off and I take her uniform off and she gets to be a normal dog."

Alley joined the Omaha Fire arson team three years ago. She and Dave spent a month at an out-of-state training center and have been together ever since both on the job and at home.

Alley's sense of smell is a strong tool for arson investigators and she's used at fire scenes to detect any evidence of an accelorant that may have been used to start the fire.

"Alley's nose is about forty times greater than ours," said Dave. "When we come to a fire scene all I smell is the fire. Alley goes way beyond that and if she picks up a scent of gasoline or lighter fluid, diesel, she will sit on that spot."

That alert speeds up the investigation and samples are then sent to a lab to determine if they might be relevant to the fire.

When Alley does give an alert, she's rewarded with dog food from a pouch that Dave has strapped to his waste.

"She's a food reward dog," said Dave. "She has to work everyday to eat."

That principle applies at home too. Every feeding is a reward for her work with elaborate set ups that contain some items that have a gasoline scent. When Alley correctly identifies the item, she is rewarded with food.

"Everything is difficult but with Alley it's a lot easier," said fire investigator Scott Fox. "She's an effective tool and helps us out in many large loss cases, criminal cases that have gone to court. With her I think we've become a much more efficient unit, and a better fire department with her."

Alley's been on the force for three years and is the only arson dog in Nebraska. She has been used in other jurisdictions when needed.

"What we've been told as dog handlers is anything that goes down the leash comes up the leash," said Dave. "So as long as I'm happy and giving her praise she's going to be happy and wanting to work."

Knicely Done!