The pup's handler says the pit bull is "extremely excited" to begin working with the Millville Fire Department in New Jersey

By Claudia Harmata
January 20, 2020 03:30 PM
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A 4-year-old rescue pit bull is believed to be the first of its breed to graduate as an arson detection K9 officer.

On Friday, Hansel — who was rescued from a dogfighting ring in Ontario, Canada, when he was just a few weeks old — officially graduated from training and joined the Millville Fire Department in New Jersey, according to CNN.

“He’s extremely excited,” Tyler Van Leer, a firefighter and Hansel’s handler, told the outlet. “Whenever I ask him, ‘Are you ready to go to work?’ and bring out the harness, he starts doing laps around the crate.”

After he was rescued from the dogfighting ring, Hansel, along with four other dogs (including his sister Gretel), were taken in by the Throw Away Dogs Project, which is a nonprofit in Philadelphia that rescues “unique” dogs and trains them to become K9 officers.

Hansel the Pitbull and Tyler Van Leer
| Credit: Erik Larson/ Larson’s Images

According to CNN, the pup trained with the organization for a year before he was enrolled in a 16-week K9 academy with Van Leer to become a certified arson detection dog. During the certification training, Hansel had to learn 14 different odors to graduate. He can now identify ignitable liquids, like kerosene, gasoline and diesel.

“He was trained or imprinted on 14 different odors and once he was imprinted on all the odors, he was eligible to graduate,” Van Leer told the outlet.

Hansel
| Credit: Erik Larson/ Larson’s Images
Credit: Erik Larson/ Larson’s Images

Hansel’s newest role is also paving the way for other pit bulls, and helping to break down the breed’s harsh stereotypes.

“I am 100% sure Hansel is the first pit bull arson detection dog in New Jersey,” Carol Skaziak, the founder of Throw Away Dogs, told CNN. “I have done so much research and I don’t believe there are any other pit bull arson detection dogs in the entire country. I have not found any others.”

“We need police chiefs and fire chiefs around the country to want to do this too. This is the first step that could make a huge statement for this breed that has been so misunderstood,” she added.

Speaking to ABC, Van Leer said he’s excited to begin working with Hansel, telling the outlet it felt like fate when they met.

“It was like an instant bond — his little head poked around the corner and it was like an instant connection. You could feel it,” Van Leer said.