Honoring Hydra

CHAMPION – Hydra, a chocolate-colored Labrador retriever, will be in the local fire history books as the first canine to serve the Trumbull County Fire Investigation Unit.

Hydra died Sept. 5 at age 12 having served the unit from 2002 to this summer when she became ill with cancer.

Matt Balut, Hydra’s handler and chief of the inspection unit, said Hydra was classified as an ignitable liquid detecting canine.

”It was a privilege to have her for 11 years. She had the uncanny ability to detect accelerants. Hydra was a stellar dog who did what she was asked of her. I and others learned from her,” Balut said noting that as her handler it was like losing a member of the family.

Balut said the dog was named Hydra for the Greek mythological water serpent with numerous heads.

Hydra spent several weeks learning her arson detection skills noting dogs are selected for the program based on their drive, exuberance, and ability to train and work daily.

Hydra with her keen sense of smell could detect such odors as kerosene, gasoline and diesel fuel, which are commonly used as accelerants in arsons.

”Any fire or police agency who needed her we went,” Balut said noting Hydra handled fires in six area counties.

Balut said Hydra handled about 50 fires per year.

”We might go a month without a call or have six or seven fires she was needed at within a few weeks,” Balut said.

Hydra’s work in arson investigations was often admissible in some courts. The dogs extend the capabilities of investigations with their scent abilities at fire scenes better than equipment.

He noted such dogs are a ”very intricate part of fire investigation.”

”What was nice about Hydra is that the school she was trained at wanted us to be willing to go beyond our boundaries to help others counties and agencies,” Balut said.

He said Hydra was brought in for the Bascom Horse Farm fire, Young’s Market attempted arson fire, and Klingensmith Dairy fire, which resulted in the arrests of three subjects connected with multiple fires.

Hydra also became recognized from her appearances at a booth at the Trumbull County Fair and visits to schools, civic organizations and police and fire training sites where Hydra demonstrated what she was trained to do.

Balut said there will be an Arson Dog Memorial on Oct. 23 in Washington, D.C., for all handlers nationwide and Hydra will be honored.

”Hydra had a good 11 years with us,” he said.

Plans are to get a replacement dog for the unit soon.