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Almost put down as a puppy, black lab becomes Stanford PD’s bomb-sniffing expert (VIDEO)

By Mariah Nogueira | 25 Mar 2011

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Red, the bomb-sniffing labrador, has worked with Stanford police since 2007. (Photo: Mariah Nogueira)

Editor’s Note: The Peninsula Press originally published this story March 5, and the reader response was so great, the reporters have created a video to go with the article.

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Police work at one of the nation’s leading universities is a big job, and this deputy does it without swagger or ego.

When luminaries visit Stanford — federal judges, Supreme Court justices, the Chancellor of Germany, Condoleezza Rice, Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Dalai Lama, among others — the deputy is out front, providing protection.

And before every football game, guess who sweeps the sky box of the Stanford University football stadium, rated the 40th highest target for a terrorist attack in the Bay Area?

Meet Red, “the most popular deputy on campus,” according to Deputy Adam Cullen. Cullen ought to know, since Red, a black labrador, sleeps at his feet every night.

Red is the first and only dog to work for the Stanford University Department of Public Safety.  German shepherds are typically used by law enforcement as K-9 “bite dogs.” But Red is trained and specializes in bomb detection. Labradors are an ideal breed for that role because of their affinity of sniffing.  Red is trained to detect 16 different bomb odors ranging from powders to plastics.

The number of bomb search dogs in this country has increased since the terrorist attacks of 9/11.  There are 10 bomb search dogs in Santa Clara County, with five dedicated to the San Jose airport alone.

Bomb threats aren’t a huge risk on Stanford’s campus, Cullen says.  In the four years that Red and Cullen have shared duty, there has been only one bomb threat in Palo Alto and another in Menlo Park, but never on the Stanford campus.

Cullen has often been asked why a bomb search dog is needed on campus.  The majority of Red’s work comes in the form of security for when dignitaries visit.  A couple of hours before Stanford hosts an event for a visiting dignitary, an advance agent tells Cullen where and when the event will take place and the route the dignitary will be taking.  Cullen and Red then sweep those areas and confirm they are safe.  Despite community skepticism about the need for a bomb search dog, Chief Laura Wilson said in an email, “The services Red provides are extremely valuable.”

Red is seven years old and was born in a kennel in Arizona.  She was one of many black labradors and, of the bunch, she was the only one wearing a red collar; hence, her name.  When she was six months old she was purchased by a kennel in Oklahoma, where the staff initially bred her for duck hunting.  She failed out.  Often times when a dog fails out, it is euthanized.

But luckily, a Menlo Park kennel was looking for a dog and bought Red, essentially saving her life.  At the time, a Honolulu police station was searching for a bomb detection dog, so the Menlo Park kennel trained Red in preparation to be sold.  After being fully trained, Honolulu informed Menlo Park that it was no longer interested, leaving Red, a trained bomb-search dog, with nowhere to go.  That’s when Stanford University Department of Public Safety purchased her in 2007.

In addition to working with Red, Deputy Adam Cullen takes her home at night, where his family loves to feed and play with her. (Photo: Mariah Nogueira)

Cullen became Red’s handler.  He had grown up with dogs and had long wanted to be a K-9 officer.  However, he was disappointed to hear that Red was a labrador.  He viewed labs as hyperactive and poorly trained; he preferred a German shepherd which, he said, would evoke a more macho persona.

However, the moment he met Red, all doubts disappeared.  “I could talk about Red forever. That’s easy,” Cullen said with a smile as he reclined in his station chair.  He described Red as having a distinct personality.  She wants to greet everyone she meets.  “Red is like a person, herself,” he said.

They trained together for six weeks. Cullen’s role in their relationship is to maintain Red’s training, care for her health and analyze her behavior and mannerisms.

“Work is like a game for Red,” Cullen said, “She wants to find the bomb.”

Bomb search dogs are trained on a reward system.  At times Red acts childlike, Cullen says.  When she gets lazy or tired and wants her reward, she’ll sit, which is the signal for finding the target.  Other times, Red detects her treat before the target and will run over to the person who has the treat before her job is done.  It is Cullen’s job to read her behaviors and call her bluff.

When Red is not on the job, Cullen said he likes to let her, “just be a dog.”  Red lives in San Jose with Cullen, his wife, and their two daughters who are 4 and 6.  She comes home and “licks the kids and me to death when she sees us,” Cullen’s wife, Giovanna said in an email. The Cullens have had three dogs in the past 20 years.  “Red by far is our favorite,” she said.

At dinner time, Red sniffs around the dinner table, hoping the kids will drop scraps, Giovanna said.  “On the rare occasions when she does not need to be at work, I spoil her. I give her a few of her favorite foods that she loves,” she added, followed by a request not to tell her husband.

Red stays with Cullen nearly everywhere he goes.  She travels with the family on vacations and stays in the Cullens’ hotels, sometime sleeping with the girls. At times, her presence can get excessive, Cullen said. He’ll be sitting on the couch with Red sleeping at his feet. When he gets up to go to the bathroom, Red will perk up and follow him there. On a family trip to Tahoe, Cullen took Red onto their ski boat.  He jumped into the water to go wakeboarding, and then heard a splash behind him.

“She’s always just asking ‘Where are we going?’” Cullen said, looking left and right, mimicking Red.

Josh Chan and Kate Johnson contributed to this report

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