POCAHONTAS – An Arkansas Game and Fish Commission K-9 helped a northeast Arkansas fire department find the people suspected of starting a brush fire in early January.
The Pocahontas Fire Department responded to the midmorning fire in a wooded city block after a 911 call, in which the caller expressed concern that the fire appeared headed toward a vacant house with a side shop, with quite a few leaves in between. The department was on the scene at Dalton Street and Hamil Street in 6 minutes and began extinguishing the fire before it could reach the buildings.
The fire department then asked local AGFC Wildlife Officer Jeff Dalton if AGFC K-9 “Happy” could help them find who started the fire. Happy, Dalton said, circled the perimeter and detected a track and followed it through woods, over a small rock-filled creek, over a chain-link fence, and to a subdivision about 400 yards from the fire.
“I knew when he tracked through a sand box that we were on them, because I could see the fresh tracks,” Dalton said.
Then it was quickly around the side of a house, up to the porch and a stop right at the front door. Dalton and the fire department captain interviewed the homeowners and determined that two juveniles had been playing in the area and had started the fire. Charges are pending.
The K-9 Happy previously resided in Garland County and was featured in the September-October issue of Arkansas Wildlife magazine about his talents in locating a troubled and possibly suicidal youth deep in a wooded area, among other exploits. His handler there was the AGFC’s Jeremy Whiley, but when Whiley was promoted to sergeant, Happy relocated to northeast Arkansas to work with Dalton.
“I got him in September,” Dalton said. “This makes my third K-9. I had two as a sheriff’s deputy here in Randolph County, but my first AGFC K-9.”
Dalton and Happy have bonded nicely. They’ve already had plenty of work, including Happy’s tracking down one of two people who allegedly stole a motorcycle in the area. Happy has also been on a couple of deer cases with Dalton, the officer said. The recent fire work, which could have taken out property that is for sale had the blaze traveled just 30-40 more yards, made many more people take notice.
“Out of the three canines I’ve had, he’s the best tracking dog and article-search dog I’ve ever had,” Dalton said. “He’s very work-aggressive. Anytime he gets out of the truck this dog’s nose is on the ground and ready to go. He makes it look easy for the handler. He’s very good at it.
“The local police department has two K-9s and the sheriff’s office has two, but this dog, I don’t know … The fire department asked me if we could track possible suspects and I told them, ‘If anybody’s been around that fire, we can find a track.’ Everybody was so amazed watching him work. He gained a lot of respect.”