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Winnipeg’s newest tool to combat arson? Scooby the golden lab

The Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service’s newest recruit is not quite two years old with friendly brown eyes, a wagging tail and a sunny, blonde coat.

Yet despite his young age, Scooby the yellow lab is a skilled member of the team, specifically experienced at sniffing out arson.

“Make no mistake – Scooby is highly trained and unfortunately, right now with the number of fires we are having in our city, there is a need for Scooby and his work,” said Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham at a news conference Friday.

Scooby’s arrival in Winnipeg was ushered in by a rash of suspicious fires and arsons in Winnipeg, including in vacant and derelict homes.

A report from WFPS in 2023 notes the service conducted more than 500 fire investigations that year, making for difficult and time-consuming work for investigators.

Winnipeggers were also concerned, be it about the safety of their neighbourhoods or the eyesores suspicious blazes created.

“The residents in our city spoke out regarding the high number of fires occurring in their neighbourhoods. Neighbourhood associations spoke out regarding residents not feeling safe in their neighbourhoods,” said Jason Fedoriw, chief officer with WFPS’ fire investigations branch.

Scooby enjoys a back scratch from Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service (WFPS) Chief Christian Schmidt at a May 3, 2024 news conference at the WFPS Training Academy. (Scott Andersson/CTV News Winnipeg)

To help in the fight against arson, a WFPS investigator went to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) Canine Training Centre in Virginia. He underwent a six-week program on accelerant detection, and is now a certified ATF canine handler.

He returned to Winnipeg with his new partner in firefighting – Scooby.

“These dogs are highly trained and incredibly skilled, and he’s here to get results. He looks very relaxed, but he’s very focused on results,” said WFPS Chief Christian Schmidt.

Those incredible skills include detecting accelerants used to initiate fires and determining evidence to help in the ongoing arson fight in Winnipeg.

He’ll also lend a paw to public education and arson deterrent initiatives.

With the help of Scooby and his handler, the city hopes to boost the number of prosecutions and deter arsonists. The 2023 report from WFPS also showed other cities with a canine program saw the number of arsons drop by up to 50 per cent.

“It’s safe to say Scooby and his handler will be very busy,” Chief Schmidt said.

– With files from CTV’s Jeff Keele

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