SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — As Willow the English Lab sniffs around the office, her paw hits a desk indicating to her handler Ron Burleson that she found something. A well-hidden thumb drive was sniffed out by the canine’s elite nose. This technique has been used hundreds of times during search warrants in San Diego County, looking for electronic devices that contain illicit photos of children.
“Usually, it’s the stuff that has been hidden or overlooked that they really don’t want us to find,” said Burleson, a senior investigator for the San Diego County District Attorney’s office.
After police conduct an initial search warrant, Willow the electronic detection dog, sniffs out anything law enforcement may have missed.
Willow and Burleson work as a team under San Diego’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, a group of detectives who investigate offenders who use the Internet and other online communication systems to sexually exploit children.
“She found a USB drive in a big plastic bin, so she obviously is a fantastic tool and sometimes she finds that smoking gun we are looking for,” said Garrick Nugent a Task Force Commander with ICAC.
Willow is trained to look for a distinct chemical compound used in electronic devices like memory cards and cellphones.
“When they originally started developing computers, they found out that hard drives would overheat and fail. They found this chemical called TPPO which keeps it from overheating,” shared Burleson.
She's not only a great detection dog, but a great wellness dog to have inside the ICAC unit. When detectives get done looking at illicit imagery of children for cases, Willow is there to provide comfort and support.
“Willow comes in and she's just happy to see everyone. She runs from cubicle to cubicle to say hi,” said Detective Tami Mason.
Burleson says when she’s not working, Willow is a great family dog who enjoys her time off.
“She is making a difference every day. For me she is the hero because she is saving kids,” said Burleson.
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