Critical Infrastructure Protection

HAZMAT Dog Follows His Nose to Fight Terrorism

As a rookie with the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, a black Lab named Johnny Ringo uses his senses to detect chemical and biological weapons.

[Photo: Johnny Ringo, a Labrador retriever, and Detective Wayne Carpini work as a team to detect chemical and biological weapons. Courtesy of Carpini.]

At 19-months old, Johnny Ringo is a badge-carrying black Labrador retriever, and the latest — and furriest — counterterrorism fighter for the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department’s Hazardous Materials Operations. And he’s one of a few dogs in the world with a nose keen enough to sniff out anthrax and other chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction.

Since joining the force in January, Johnny Ringo has been sniffing his way around urban facilities for sweeps, planned events and big venues, such as the Rose Bowl and Golden Globe Awards.

“It’s not hard to detect chemical and biological weapons once they’re dispersed,” said Detective Wayne Carpini, the dog’s handler. “He’s the only dog that can detect something before it goes off.”

The dog was named after the notorious gunslinger of the Old West, known as “the King of the Cowboys.” But the happy-go-lucky canine aims only to serve to protect: His ability makes him an invaluable asset to a new security program at the L.A. Port Complex.

But this is all new territory for Johnny Ringo. Originally from Holland, he was brought to America by Work Dogs International, a Banning, Calif.-based company that raises and trains canine security assets.

The specialized dog spent six weeks at a lab in Austin, Texas, where Carpini trained his nose to track scents and odors in chemical and biological agents related to WMDs. No other dog in the world does what he does, mainly because of the nature of the job.

“One of the biggest concerns is if a dog smells anthrax, then the dog and handlers are dead,” said Patrick Beltz, Work Dogs International’s chief instructor, who named the canine detective. “But dogs find heroin and cocaine daily and nobody overdoses.”

But, Beltz predicts, more WMD-sniffing canines will come on the scene in the next few years as authorities realize the potential of a dog that can detect toxins at ports of call, airports and waterways — a skill that requires constant training.

Carpini works to keep Johnny Ringo’s skills sharp. “Every day I come to work, I run him on scents and odors, search him long and search him short,” he said.

When off duty, Johnny Ringo goes home with Carpini, who lives on a two-acre plot just outside of Los Angeles County. Unfortunately not enough people know about the dog yet, so his services haven’t been utilized as much as they could be.

“I had people who watched the Super Bowl asking, ‘How come your dog’s not there?’” Carpini said. “I said ‘It’s not me. I don't make this call.’”


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