Rescue Dog No One Wanted Gets New Life as an Arson Detective

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Partners: K9 Officer Axe’s official graduation portrait. Photo: NY Governor’s Office


It took a long time for Axe to find the place where he belonged.

As a puppy, he spend long, sad days tied up outside a home in the Carolinas. And even after he was rescued, the Lab mix bounced from home to home. Axe is super-energetic and rambunctious. His adopters couldn’t keep up with him.

These days, however, the peppy pup has more than enough to do — and he loves it.

Last Friday, Axe graduated from the New York State Fire Training Academy after eight weeks of training. Certified as an accelerant detection canine, Axe is the newest member of the Erie County Sheriff’s Office Fire Investigation Unit (FIU).

“We needed a dog with a lot of energy,” Detective Scott Kuhlmey told the Buffalo News. “Dogs for this program are selected based upon their high play drive, and the ability to focus and interact positively after an indication of an ignitable. He’s a perfect work dog. Once he picks up the scent, his demeanor and the way he breathes changes. He’ll be casting with his nose. His nose will shift.”

Axe’s reward for a job well done is a rousing game of tug, often played with a piece of fire hose! The game builds excitement, Kuhlmey said, and reinforces the positive behavior.

The K-9 team is often called to a fire while the flames are still being suppressed. Axe may face hot and smoky conditions. The team can search rooms and buildings in minutes.

“Alcohol is light and evaporates quickly. The longer we wait, the better the possibility of it evaporating,” Kuhlmey said, explaining the necessity for a speedy investigation.

Axe isn’t the only dog in the unit (which also employs four humans!). Blaze and partner Steven Meerboth are also on the job

Only a few good dogs can do the job, Kuhlmey said. The new team was initially connected by Peppertree Rescue in Albany, after Axe was found to be sound and suitable for training.

Detective Scott Kuhlmey plays with Axe. It’s positive reinforcement for a job well done. Photo: Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News


“Usually Lab or German shepherd mixes are selected,” said Kuhlmey. “They are typically smart and agile dogs with olfactory receptors that lend themselves well to this type of work.”

When on the job Axe, rides in a transport cage permanently mounted in the sheriff’s temperature-controlled vehicle. Axe and Kuhlmey are available to all 97 Erie County fire departments and law enforcement agencies to help investigate fires where arson is suspected.

After hours, the partners head home together.

“Axe is my partner and my pet,” said Kuhlmey, who has two children, ages 14 and 12, at home. “Axe is a nice family dog.”

Kuhlmey, a volunteer firefighter since 1988 and former assistant chief and chief for the Lancaster Fire Department, makes sure there is no confusion as to when Axe can play and when he must work.

“There’s specific things we do,” Kuhlmey said. “When I put his harness on, he knows it’s time to change hats and become a work dog.”