City of Sikeston to get arson dog

City of Sikeston to get arson dog


The City of Sikeston will soon be home to an arson detection dog.

Last month the city was notified they were one of 12 cities nationwide that would receive an arson detection K-9 through a grant from State Farm Insurance. Sikeston would be just the second city in Missouri to have an arson detection dog, with Columbia being the other.

The grant pays for 100% for the dog, training for both handler and K-9, travel expenses there and back, along with food and lodging. The four-week training program will be held in New Hampshire, where both dog and handler will receive over 200 hours of training, learning how to use accelerants that are used during arsons.

The estimated amount of the grant is for $25,000 for the K-9 and the training. That amount does not include the travel, food and lodging during the training, which is paid for by the grant as well.

The only annual cost for the City of Sikeston will be annual vet bills, food, and annual recertification, which is estimated to be about $4,000.

The handler will be Sgt. James Whitley, who will go wherever the dog goes. The dog will stay at Whitley’s home. Whitley will train with the dog in April.

“I think this is awesome for us to be able to get,” said Sikeston Mayor Greg Turnbow.

Accelerant detection canines, also known as arson dogs, are trained to sniff out accelerants potentially used to start a fire. The dog will be a Labrador Retriever due to the breed’s ability to discriminate scents at a fire scene.

The majority of canines in the State Farm Arson Dog Program come from animal shelters, rescue organizations or certified companion programs. Many of the dogs were raised to be a guide dog or offer disability assistance but didn’t complete their training because the dog was too energetic. These dogs are given a second chance to serve by training as an accelerant detection canine.

An arson dog will sit on or near the source of an odor which they are seeking once it has been detected. This allows officials to locate the substance without fear of damaging or destroying evidence, which is critical in ensuring that the prosecution process is not impaired.

Some of the arson-related substances the dogs are trained to detect include: gasoline, lighter fluid, charcoal starter fluid, brake fluid, thinner, turpentine, diesel, acetone and Coleman fuel.

In 2021, Sikeston had 55 structure fires and over 70 structure fires in 2022 with roughly 15-20 arsons a year for structures and several arsons involving vehicles.

“If you ask me to put a number on exactly how many arsons, I don’t know,” said Sikeston DPS Capt. Derick Wheetley. “I can tell you there are a lot of unknowns. Having a dog we can send through to at least speed up this process will save manpower.”

At the end of the training, the K-9 and handler will receive a national certificate certified through all 50 states and is deployable in any state or territory. Wheetley added the dog will be available for mutual aid as well.

“Our plan is to help the region,” Wheetley said.