Meet Hansel, the first pit bull to become an arson-detection K9 officer

Erik Larson | Instagram

Hansel the pit bull just made history as the first of its breed to graduate as an arson detection K9 officer, officially becoming a member of the Millville Fire Department in New Jersey after successfully finishing his training.

The four-year-old pup was rescued by the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) in 2015 when he was just 7 weeks old.

He was removed from the dog-fighting ring together with his mom and his sister, Gretel. The rescued pups were later taken to Throw Away Dogs Project, a Philadelphia-based non-profit organization that rescues misunderstood dogs and grooms into becoming police dogs.

Hansel, known for generously giving kisses and for his endless energy, trained with Throw Away Dogs for a year before enrolling in a K9 academy with his handler. After 16 weeks, the fresh graduate became a certified arson detection K9 officer for the Millville Fire Department.

Photo by Erik Larson

The pup was trained to become a single purpose arson detection K9, which meant that he was specifically trained to identify ignitable liquids, such as kerosene and diesel. Now, he can sniff out a total of 14 different ignitable odors.

“He was trained or imprinted on 14 different odors and once he was imprinted on all the odors, he was eligible to graduate,” Tyler Van Leer, Hansel’s handler, told CNN.

Van Leer, who has been with the Millville Fire Department for eight years, says that the pup is “extremely excited” to play his part as the new member of the team.

“Whenever I ask him, ‘Are you ready to go to work?’ and bring out the harness, he starts doing laps around the crate,” he said.

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Photo by Erik Larson

The good news is that Hansel will begin taking on jobs immediately, and he will also be available to help other police and fire departments outside of his designated area as needed. The dog will also be assisting firefighters in educating students about fire prevention.

According to Carol Skaziak, the founder of Throw Away Dogs, the new graduate is making history.

“I am 100% sure Hansel is the first pit bull arson detection dog in New Jersey,” she told CNN. “I have done so much research and I don’t believe there are any other pit bull arson detection dogs in the entire country. I have not found any others.”

Van Leer and Skaziak believe that Hansel’s appointment can lead to a brighter future for pit bulls, whose breed is often seen misjudged.

Other departments that were present during Hansel’s graduation and witnessed his development over the past year have already expressed interest in bringing in other pit bulls to be trained in becoming arson detection dogs.

Tyler Van Leer

“We need police chiefs and fire chiefs around the country to want to do this too. This is the first step that could make a huge statement for this breed that has been so misunderstood,” Skaziak said.

Van Leer, who feels excited to work alongside Hansel, shared what it was like meeting his partner for the first time in the firehouse.

“It was like an instant bond — his little head poked around the corner and it was like an instant connection. You could feel it,” he said.

Hansel lives with his family at their home and is provided with all his necessities in the firehouse, including an outdoor kennel, heaters, and lots of dog food.

For sure, this future hero will do so great at his new job! Watch the video below.