Countless lives and billions of dollars are lost each year because of intentionally set fires.
Arson is one of the most difficult crimes to solve, but one national program is using man’s best friend as a way to help.
Dogs can quickly search a fire scene for evidence and are essential to solving crimes.
For the next 3 days, dogs and handlers from all over the country and Canada are in Bismarck getting recertified through the State Farm Arson Dog Program.
Aaron Fields sat down with North Dakota’s one and only Arson Dog team.
Mandan Fire Department Captain, Shane Weltikol, and his lovable dog, Webbster have been an unbreakable team since 2017.
Webbster is North Dakota’s first-ever arson dog. His handler Shane Weltikol says he can still remember the first time they met.
“So when they matched Webbster and I up. It was kind of like a match made in heaven,” says Weltikol. “We hit off right away. It didn’t take us long to figure each other out and ever since then, we have been a really good team.”
The State Farm Arson Dog program has been pairing handlers and dogs up since 1993. Weltikol tells me the process was kind of like a dating service.
“They interview us they talk about your family lives and what we like to do for fun and then they match us up with the personality of the dogs that have been training prior to us arriving.”
After getting matched, Weltikol and Webbster spent the next 4 weeks together, training 24/7. Each of them learning something new about the other, but essentially making our community safer.
“With Webbster we can go into that fire scene and knock that time out from days and weeks to minutes or hours. So he saves on our man power resources exponenitally,” says Weltikol.
The coordinator of The Arson Dog Program tells me that even though the main objective is for these dogs to help find the bad guys, the program has shown the power of what a dog can really do.
State Farm Arson Dog Program Coordinator, Heather Paul says, “To have a dog like this specially skilled. That only works for praise from their handler with a handful of dog food to really illustrate what a positive healthy respectful relationship with a dog can result in.”
And Weltikol has one last message for anyone that is thinking about starting a fire around here.
“We are going to bring Webbster and we are going to find what was put there. There’s bad guys out there….that want to start fires but we want them to know that we have a tool that’s going to help us find you.”
Weltikol told me the only other arson dog around us is in Minnesota, and the dynamic duo covers fires for our surrounding states.
This year 16 Dogs will graduate from the program.