Just as college roommates are starting to get to know each other better with the start of the fall semester at Utah State University, Scott Murray is already feeling quite comfortable with his new live-in housemate: a 2-year-old Labrador retriever named Zoomer.
“We’re coming up on three weeks, but there’s been a lot of learning in those three weeks. And the first two weeks, we bonded pretty quickly,” Murray said. “A part of that bonding is he spend all day with me at home and at work; I’m on the only one that really talks to him, walks him, gives him a break or feeds him.”
A patrol officer with the USU Department of Public Safety since January, Murray is adding the role of K-9 handler to his job duties thanks to the recent of addition of Zoomer, the first dog ever utilized by USU’s campus police force.
Officially, the young black Lab is regarded as a tactical police dog with a specialty in explosives detection. More commonly referred to as a “bomb dog,” Zoomer and Murray comprise the only K-9 explosives detection unit currently serving in Cache Valley or anywhere in Utah north of Ogden.
“There’s a few reasons we decided to get a bomb dog for the university,” Captain Kent Harris of the USU Department of Public Safety explained during a demonstration of Zoomer’s skills last week. “First of all, we want to make sure the university is the safest we can make it. But also want to take make that we have a resource that the surrounding agencies can utilize to make the entire community safe.
“We also wanted a dog that is very approachable and friendly,” Harris continued. “But also one with a good work ethic.”
Zoomer was initially trained by Pacific Coast K9 in Custer, Washington, then purchased by USU Public Safety through a grant and the department’s budget. The campus police force also added a specialized Ford F-150 truck to accommodate Zoomer, who will reside in a kennel at Murray’s home on a permanent basis.
Although he has never been a K-9 handler before, Murray said he had a lot of experience working with K-9 units during a 21-year career with the Logan City Police Department, so he had some idea of the “intense involvement” it takes – on- and off-duty – to operate a tactical police dog.
“He’s like a bull in a china closet, to be honest with you. He’s full of energy,” Murray said of Zoomer. “At home he chills. He’s got a really nice kennel set up in my backyard, and my kids go out and play with him.
“But the interesting thing about a working police dog is that you have to help the dog understand that when he’s out of his kennel and gets into the vehicle to go to work, it’s work time,” Murray continued. “You can easily ruin a dog’s workability by his home life being way too relaxing or going on long walks with the family. He needs to associate that when he’s out of his kennel, it’s really work time.”
Shortly after arriving on campus, Zoomer and Murray embarked on a two-week, 80-hour training course under the guidance of Pacific Coast K9 that left the duo certified by the National Police Canine Association, as well as by Utah’s Peace Officer Standards and Training organization. Murray is the only campus police officer certified to handle Zoomer, and he would also go with the dog if another local police agency requested their assistance.
“The bomb dog is the No. 1 piece of mind that we have when there’s a legitimate threat to the campus, whether it be an explosive threat or a suspicious package,” Murray said. “Whatever it may be, we now have the tool to be able to respond and take care of the incident judiciously and put people at ease faster.
“A legitimate bomb threat is a huge thing, with evacuations and bomb technicians going in. Now we can pinpoint if there actually is a threat, then everything is going to go a lot smoother and a lot faster.”
As a bomb dog, Murray said Zoomer has not been imprinted to bite, and the young Lab is comfortable with interacting with members of the public.
“We definitely wanted a dog that is approachable, because kids love dogs,” Murray added. “And we want him to be seen, so he can be a deterrent at some place like a football game.”
Depending on his health, Zoomer is expected to serve Utah State for the next eight years or more, and Harris said the Department of Public Safety hopes to acquire additional police dogs in the future.
“We want people to know that if they plan on coming up to campus and doing something, that we have a deterrent here, and we can detect those types of things,” he declared. “And it’s the policy of the university police department that when anyone comes here on campus – whether it’s to live, work, study or play – that they are safe. We want to make sure that this is a safe place for everybody to be.”