This semester, a new police unit is patrolling Penn’s campus, keeping their eyes, ears, and noses attuned to any threats to the University community.
Late last month, Penn’s Division of Public Safety debuted its first K9 Unit, comprised of Penn Police Officer Julie Wesley and Socks, a yellow lab who has been trained to use her refined sense of smell to detect explosive materials. Socks, who graduated in September from the Penn Vet Working Dog Center (WDC), received additional training as part of a 13-week course at the Atlantic County John “Sonny” Burke K9 Academy in Corbin City, N.J., and graduated from that course on Dec. 20.
Socks had already demonstrated a knack for sniffing out danger at the WDC, where she also received basic obedience training. That preparation, says Wesley, “gave her a leg up” in the K9 Academy course, which included 18 other dogs and their officer handlers.
“Socks had also already been imprinted with black powder [nitrates] at the WDC, which is a common base for many explosives,” Wesley says.
Socks added to her repertoire at the Academy, imprinting on more than two dozen different explosive materials.
“We also took environmental training in different locations,” Wesley says, “including malls, airports, train stations, the boardwalk, hospitals, and schools to expose the dogs to the variety of environments in which they could be working.”
Now on the job, Wesley is working to reinforce Socks’ training. Together, they will respond to calls about unattended packages and perform building sweeps before large-scale events and visits by dignitaries. Socks will also accompany Wesley during her regular patrol of Penn’s campus and the surrounding area.
“Fortunately, Socks loves to work and sees it as play,” Wesley says. “Socks also requires a lot of exercise, so we still use the WDC to keep her agile and active when my other assignments allow.”
When off duty, Socks stays by Wesley’s side, living at her home with Wesley’s two other dogs.
“She loves my big backyard and our trampoline to play on when we get home,” Wesley says. “She is just another member of the family.”
Originally published on January 9, 2014