The year of 2006 saw some of the worst wildfire seasons in Texas history. According to Ranger Kevin Pierce, out of 279 arson fires reported to the Texas Forest Service, only a handful of arrests were ever made. Those 279 arson fires were responsible for $8 million in property damage across 9,962 acres. After working with other state forest service investigators, Ranger Pierce became familiar with the Canine Arson Program.
While assisting with arson investigations in other states, Pierce was amazed at how the well-trained canines would pick up the scent of a suspect at the location where the fire was believed to have begun and track it to a footprint or a tire print. One dog tracked a suspect five miles away. "I was just amazed at the dogs' ability to do that," Pierce said of how the canine picked up a trail that was already several days old. Back in Texas, Pierce was given the green light to being a similar program.
The Texas Forest Service's first arson dog was Little Arson Annie, a Bloodhound. Little Annie was donated to the TFS when she was just six months old. After arriving in Lufkin, TX, she began training with Pierce, her handler. Currently, the pair travels to Fort Bend County for a day of training every two weeks with Fort Bend County Sheriff's Deputy Keith Pikett.
"Annie was a quick study," said Gary Bennett, Chief Law Enforcement Officer for Texas Forest Service. "With the current fire danger situation, she was a welcomed addition to our arson fighting team."
As with most law enforcement animals, Little Annie (AKC registered Texas Forest Duchess Blaze) lives with her handler and is considered part of the family. With three children living in the household, the Bloodhound receives lots of socialization and continues her training well into the evening hours. She and Pierce also visit schools to discuss arson prevention.
"Bloodhounds have successfully assisted the Virginia, West Virginia, Georgia and New Jersey forest services for several decades," Pierce said, "and are the only breed of dog whose tracking ability is recognized by the courts."
A working Bloodhound normally retires from service after seven years and a new arson investigator will begin training. At that time, Pierce has the option of purchasing Little Annie from the agency to live out her remaining years with him and his family.