Man’s best friend keeps University safe

Jeffrey Pierre and Raul Herrera/ FIUSM Staff

It’s the kind of game you play that can saves lives.

The game is simple—  you take a few commands, sniff out anything suspicious, report back with any updates and finally, comes the prize: a small, black round dog’s chew toy.

And if you’re lucky, maybe someone might throw the toy for a game of fetch.

For Robi, a 7-year- old German-shepherd and the FIU Police Department’s K-9 Unit dog, his game is keeping the University a little safer.

On Oct 8, campus police were alerted of a bomb threat set for Oct 19 in the Primera Casa building. “When I received that information, we were already on our way home,” said Roberto Leal, the head officer of the University police’s K-9 Unit. “I turned around and came back, obviously because of the severity of the situation.”

Up until this point, Leal and Robi had been working together for seven months, day and night, training for this exact scenario. In the days leading to Oct 19, the University was on high alert, conducting security sweeps daily.

On the date of the threat, Robi alerted police to a trash bin on the second floor of the PC building, which prompted University police to contact the Miami Dade Police Bomb Squad Unit.

FIUPD then impounded a box of Gatorade and ink toner cartridges for testing to determine whether the materials were being used to manufacture explosives.

“He’s been trained to sit when he has been presented one of the targeted odors he’s been trained to alert on,” Leal said. “It doesn’t mean that there was an explosive device, it’s just there was an odor that K-9 are trained to detect.”

Robi was donated by Peter Nuñez of the Miami Dade Police Department. Robi had previously worked with MDPD bomb squads at Miami International Airport.

“We got Robi through the US K-9 Academy in late March,” said Leal. “We started training [together] in April. We went through a 350-hour K-9 handler course.”

After the course, Leal and Robi were certified by the University’s International Forensic Research Institute in mid-June. They’ve been hard at work ever since.

Both Robi and Leal have experience in this field.

In fact, Leal had worked with detection dogs five years before coming to the University.

Leal enjoys working with Robi by his side. He said that, while it normally takes a year for a K-9 unit to “become one.”

“As time goes, he and I will get better,” he said. “This is the best job you can have as a police officer.”

According to Leal, Robi is only trained to handle sweeps of areas where there have been reports of suspicious packages, abandoned cars and other indicators of the possible presence of an explosives device. The dog has been deployed about four times after being certified, the last two to clear the University bomb threat.

Robi, who was nicknamed “The Wonder Dog” by his coworkers, alerts Leal whenever he comes into contact with specific odors or substances that may indicate the presence of explosive devices or materials.

Once a police dog alerts his handler, the FIUPD follows protocol and contacts the Miami Dade Bomb Squad.

According to Leal, the most difficult part of working with Robi is taking care of him and cleaning up after him. He is required to take the dog home and be with him around the clock.

In fact, FIUPD loaned him a special K-9 vehicle with a “Hot Dog” alarm system, tinted windows for cooling, temperature control and more. Despite this, Leal is concerned for the dog’s safety on the job.

“[My] biggest worry is him getting hurt,” he said.

Still, Robi is no pet of the police department. He has been trained to know exactly when it’s time to work and time to play. Leal said that he uses a special flat collar that the dog has associated with his job.

Police Chief Alexander Casas is interested in expanding the K-9 program, according to Leal, but it has not yet been determined whether or not they want to recruit more bomb detection dogs, or if they want to include those that find narcotics.

“Hopefully, we will get more dogs,” Leal said.

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