The nose knows. Especially if it’s the nose of Officer Figaro, an exceptionally handsome black Lab—and the University of Rhode Island Police Department’s first explosive-detecting dog.
Figaro, who is 21-months old, has been on the job at the University with his partner, Sgt. Erica Vieira, since the end of October. Before that, the pair completed extensive training at the Connecticut State Police Canine Center. It’s clear they are a great team.
Vieira and Figaro trained together for six weeks with 11 other law enforcement officers and their dogs. During the course of the training, the dogs were exposed to thousands of odors.
“He is such a sweet dog and he is great to work with,” said Vieira. “He is the loviest dog ever. But he becomes serious when he goes to work. When he enters a building, he immediately starts sniffing walls, floors, and seams.”
Sgt. Vieira had prior search and rescue experience with her beloved dog Maxwell, who died just two weeks before she began an eight-week training program at the Connecticut State Police Canine Center. Vieira and Figaro then trained together for six weeks with 11 other law enforcement officers and their dogs. During the course of the training, the dogs were exposed to thousands of odors.
Figaro’s “good nose for explosives” made him a natural, Vieira said. Prior to his explosive-detection training, Figaro went through the Guiding Eyes Program, where he was trained for one-and-a-half years. “The puppy raiser there did a great job, but Figaro was a little too rambunctious to be a seeing eye dog,” she said.
Figaro always does his work on a leash at Vieira’s side. He is only fed when he completes his work, and is always fed by hand. Very serious and completely focused on his work when he is on the job, Figaro shows his sweet disposition when he and his partner walk around campus, where he’s already made many friends.
URI is the only university or college in the state and one of only three in New England to have a trained canine on the force that can detect bombs and bomb residue, according to URI Police Maj. Michael Jagoda. Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Yale University are the other New England schools.
“We have many big events, including commencement, that require the skills of a trained officer and canine to conduct building and facility sweeps to ensure the safety of our community,” said Jagoda. “It’s also an efficiency issue. If someone finds a suspicious package in the Memorial Union, Sgt. Vieira and Figaro are able to respond immediately.”
Before Figaro was on campus, URI police had to wait for the Rhode Island State Police to respond with its canine unit in such a situation.
“This is an opportunity for our community to have even greater confidence in our police department,” Jagoda said. “Sgt. Vieira and Figaro reinforce our community policing approach.”