A detective and his dog keep ASU safe

Disney the explosives-detection canine sniffs out danger


Disney is the ASU Police Department's canine.

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Most people really love their pets, but few bonds are as intense as the one between Parker Dunwoody and his Labrador retriever, Disney.

Dunwoody, a detective in the Arizona State University Police Department, handles Disney, who is the department’s explosives-detection canine. That means the two trained together, work together and live together.

But it goes beyond that. Disney is a food-reward dog. She eats only when she finds explosives.

So two or three times a day, Dunwoody must set up a training area with explosives so that Disney can sniff them out and then eat.

Every day.

“On Christmas morning, I’m putting explosives out for my dog to find, we do our Christmas and then Disney gets trained after we do our stuff,” Dunwoody said.

“I plan that into every single day to make sure she gets adequate training. We want to make sure she’s not just maintained.”

Disney sweeps near Sun Devil Stadium.

Disney, the ASU Police Department's  explosives-detection dog, sweeps near Sun Devil Stadium.

Photos by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Dunwoody does have backup trainers for Disney. Another detective in the ASU department can handle her, as well as trainers from the U.S. Marshals Service, who also have explosives canines.

But most of the time, it’s the two of them.

At home, the detective will hide traces of non-regulated explosives, such as gun parts or empty shell casings. When Disney finds something, she “alerts” him by sitting down and he feeds her by hand.

Dunwoody also will take her to parks.

“Open areas are a cornucopia of smells,” he said. “You have dogs that pee there, kids that play there, people have parties there. It’s perfect for mixing in all these distracting odors to make her find what she needs to find.”

Sometimes, especially around the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve, Disney will find spent fireworks that Dunwoody didn’t put out.

Disney can distinguish more than 19,000 combinations of explosive substances.

“Basically it’s anything that has gone ‘boom’ or will go ‘boom,’ " Dunwoody said.

The two will start a typical work day by visiting the light-rail stations that ASU students use, with Disney checking out the platforms.

When they get to the police department, Dunwoody will set up a training session for Disney in the office hallways and cubicles, where he can use explosives that are regulated and can’t leave the building.

Sometimes he’ll take her to Wells Fargo Arena or Sun Devil Stadium — places she typically will sweep during big events.

Dunwoody is also the department’s terrorism liaison officer and attends a lot of meetings. When he’s busy and she’s not, Disney relaxes in an office and accepts affection from the department staff throughout the day.

“Disney is a very important part of the ASU Police Department. She’s a dual-purpose dog in my book,” said Police Chief Michael Thompson. “Her primary purpose is work as an explosive-detection canine.

"On the other side of the coin, Disney is a huge ambassador for the department. Disney loves her job. She loves to visit elementary schools, and she loves being a part of the ASU community.”

Dunwoody and Disney have been on hundreds of assignments. In August, she assisted the Tempe Police Department as officers caught a bank-robbery suspect who is accused of firing several shots. Disney searched the area and verified the location of a gun that police say the suspect used.

Around the same time, Dunwoody and Disney traveled to Las Cruces, New Mexico, where law enforcement there was investigating a series of church bombings.

Disney also helps out other Valley agencies, including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, where Disney trained as a puppy, and the U.S. Marshals Service. She’ll sweep an area before events such as bowl games or visits by celebrities.

Disney, who will turn 8 years old in January, is in the last years of her service. She cannot be certified after age 9. When she retires, she’ll continue to live with Dunwoody and his family and can fully indulge in her only bad habit — lying on the furniture.

“It’s been a wild ride and very fun,” said Dunwoody, who is hoping to acquire another canine for the department.

“I’m a dog guy in general, and any chance I get to be with my canine partner is a good day.”

Man petting dog

ASU Police detective Parker Dunwoody plays with Disney outside Sun Devil Stadium after she performed an explosives sweep before the Homecoming game on Nov. 14.

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