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March 3, 2014

Rescue puppy

Yearlong training regimen awaits future firedog

TERRE HAUTE — Ablond bundle of energy on four legs showed off his energy Monday afternoon at the Vigo County Annex.

Blaze, a 9-week old British Labrador Retriever, was introduced as the new Vigo County arson and search-and-rescue dog.

The canine will work under the umbrella of the Vigo County Emergency Management Agency, which selected volunteer Darrick Scott as Blaze’s handler. Scott is a 25-year firefighter with the Sugar Creek Fire Department, where he is now chief.

Scott has also served 22 years with the Terre Haute City Fire Department and is a member of Task Force 7 – the region’s emergency disaster response team.

“We look forward to a long relationship with Blaze and Darrick,” said Kathy Miller, president of the Vigo County Council during the meet-and-greet with Blaze.

EMA director Dr. Dorene Hojnicki explained that Scott will be a volunteer for EMA in handling Blaze. They have already begun training together in dog obedience school, and they will be going through a socialization program and canine good citizen program this spring.

Blaze has also started doing clicker training, in which he receives a treat for following a command.

“I just can’t get over how quick he’s picking up on stuff,” Hojnicki said.

Blaze arrived to live with Scott’s family on Feb. 21. Scott’s 11-year-old daughter Jaylynn said the puppy is already part of the family.

“It’s like having another kid,” Scott admitted. “He’s a lot of work. I knew that was coming, but I also see the potential in him.”

Blaze is expected to grow to be a large dog. His father weighs 95 pounds and his mother is 80 pounds. They are both working dogs too.

Hojnicki explained that the county has received many good years of service from its arson team of Chaka and handler Josh Sittler. But Chaka is nearing retirement.

In June, Blaze will return to Wisconsin to begin formal training in track and trail, with the goal of being certified in state and national track and trail. He should complete that training in September and start his tracking duties in November.

Because of Blaze’s age, Hojnicki said, the arson training will wait until February 2015. At a year old, he can begin exposure to the accelerants that he will detect in arson investigations. At that time, he will return to Wisconsin to begin four months of arson training, with certification to come in early next summer.

The cost for Blaze is about $9,900, which includes training and certification. The Vigo County Prosecutor’s office has also designated another $4,000 to buy equipment for training and maintaining Blaze.

“It will cost the county about $15,000 to $16,000 when we are done with training,” Scott said, “and we hope for a service life of 10 to 11 years with Blaze.”

Scott said he looks forward to taking the sociable dog around to area schools and community events for public education. He said the pup has already visited some area nursing homes, where he has been well-received.

“I’m sure we’ll use him a lot for arson investigations, and hopefully not so much for track and trail, because we hope not to have many,” Scott said. “But we’ll have him when we need him.”

Hojnicki said that Vigo County EMA had 18 responses of the search and rescue team in 2013, so there is a need for a canine tracking dog.

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.

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