Rescued dog becomes New Jersey’s first pit bull arson K9 officer

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A rescued pit bull from southern New Jersey is set to make history and is ready to get to work to help a Cumberland County fire department.

Hansel the pit bull and Millville firefighter Tyler Van Leer are inseparable and are together making history. Handel is the first pit bull in the Garden State to take on the role of an arson-detection K9 officer.

“When I put on his harness and I tell him, ‘Do you want to go to work?’ he literally does laps in his crate,” Van Leer says.

Hansel was rescued from a dog-fighting ring in Canada when he was just 7 weeks old. He eventually made his way to the Throw Away Dogs Project – a group that takes rescued dogs and turns them into working dogs.

"He exhibited all the qualities that a regular working dog, police K9 dog has,” says Throw Away Dogs founder Carol Skaziak.

Hansel and Van Leer have spent the past 15 weeks at the New Jersey Police K9 Association’s academy training – doing about a dozen practice searches every day.

On Jan. 19, Hansel will work his first shift alongside Van Leer with the Millville Fire Department.

"In the instance, where the scene is safe, I'll determine where the point of origin is and then I'll dig out that area and then Hansel will come in and sniff out the area that I've dug out and if he sits then I'll take evidence if he doesn't sit then it's most likely was not an intentionally set fire,” says Van Leer.

"Hansel has been through hell and back and this absolutely is needed to find his niche, his person, and Fireman Van Leer is that person and his job, now he's going to have a purpose,” says Skaziak.

New Jersey Police K9 Association president Kenneth Sacavitch says that Hansel’s job will also help change the perception of pit bulls as violent and aggressive dogs.

Hansel was rescued in 2015. He was a part of the global campaign "Save the 21" that rescued these dogs from euthanization in Canada. One of his litter mates also made her way to New Jersey and is a therapy dog.

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