Brian Schad and his K9 Sparks are a crime-fighting duo that have been investigating fires together for nearly six years..
Brian Schad and his K9 Sparks are a crime-fighting duo that have been investigating fires together for nearly six years.
Sparks is an arson dog who has been specially trained to identify the ignition points of fires and sniff out if accelerants were involved. Sparks was recently selected as one of 18 dogs in the running for the arson dog category of the American Humane Association’s Hero Dog contest.
“We are really rooting for Sparks,” said Dave Phillips, a spokesperson for State Farm Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, which is sponsoring the arson dog category of the contest. “She is our local representative, but all these dogs are truly heroes.”
To vote for Sparks, people can visit herodogaward.org, click on “vote” and then select the arson dog category. Voting runs through June, when semifinalists will be chosen.
Schad and Sparks have been constant companions since the black lab joined the Delaware State Fire Marshal’s team in January 2008. Schad say the two are best friends.
“We feed off each other,” said Schad, who resides in Smyrna. “She knows when I’m having a bad day. I know when she’s having a bad day. We can read each other. It’s weird to have that. You expect to have that with another human, but to have that bond with an animal is just something else.”
Sparks and Schad traveled to Maine in April 2008 to complete State Farm’s arson dog training. Even back in their training days Sparks made it apparent she had a personality of her own by tearing the sheets off of Schad’s bed on several occasions.
“She can be funny,” he said. “She can go from one minute running around the room, acting like a nut to laying down snoring.”
Sparks is actually known for her snoring. She will fall asleep in Schad’s office and snore so loudly that people will think the Deputy Fire Marshal is sleeping on the job. Sparks is also known for her appetite. Schad and his family have taken to storing their bread on top of the refrigerator to keep it out of Spark’s reach.
“We’ve had to child-proof our house because of our kid, but we’ve had to Sparks-proof our house for food,” Schad said. “We can’t leave bread on the counter. She gets on the counter and gets the bread no matter how far back you put it. She’s eaten an entire loaf of bread in seconds.”
Despite the occasional antic, Sparks is a hard working dog, Schad said. She has never refused to enter a fire, even when her job entailed her and Schad to walk on floors with gaping holes left by fire or when the only way into a scene was for Schad to descend a ladder carrying her.
Sparks has maintained her determined personality despite being in a serious car accident in 2012. Schad was driving with Sparks, when his vehicle was struck by a car whose driver ran a red light. The impact caused the vehicle Schad and Sparks were in to overturn. The car flipped three or four times before coming to a stop. As soon as Schad opened his eyes after the car settled, he called for Sparks and she jumped up.
“If she didn’t jump up at that point I don’t know what I would have done,” Schad said.
Schad had to be cut out of the vehicle and spent several months out of work, but the accident didn’t keep Sparks down. She returned to work the following week, working with Schad’s assistant handler.
“The fact that she was able to get back to work that quickly and without problems was huge,” Schad said. “I don’t know many dogs that would have been willing to get back into a vehicle after that.”
After spending the last eight years of her life as an arson dog − six of those side by side with Schad − Sparks will be retiring this year. For now though Schad is just happy that Sparks has been nominated as a contestant for the Hero Dog Award.
“She definitely deserves it,” he said. “I hope she wins just for her sake. It’s not about me. I’m just the guy who holds the leash and gives her food when she does what she’s supposed to. She’s really the star.”