Cheeto, Maine’s new K9 arson dog, will help sniff out fire causes

MAINE, Maine — The Office of the Maine State Fire Marshal recently welcomed its third arson K-9 to the team.  

Fire investigator Andrew Whitney and his K9 Cheeto recently graduated from a month-long Arson Dog Training Program sponsored by State Farm. Whitney and Cheeto were one of 13 teams from across the country that were part of this training. Cheeto comes from “Paws with a Cause” in Wayland, Michigan, and is a 2-year-old yellow Lab mix. He was originally raised to be a disability dog but had too strong of a nose to be a service animal. 

“As Andrew Whitney and his remarkable K9 partner, Cheeto, embark on their mission, we have full confidence that they will make an incredible impact,” Maine Forest Service Director Patty Cormier said. “Their presence and expertise will bolster our emergency response and wildfire arson investigation capabilities.”

“The Office of State Fire Marshal would like to thank State Farm for their ongoing support,” Maine Fire Marshal Rich McCarthy said. “We are excited to have Cheeto join our fire marshal family. Cheeto joins State Farm K9 Shannon and K9 Harry who is from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. (ATF). With this trio, our office has the ability to have a K9 at any fire scene where they are needed, giving our investigator’s another tool to track down the sources of suspicious fires.” 

The program from which Cheeto and investigator Whitney graduated is the premier training program in North America for accelerant detection canine teams. It’s fully funded by State Farm and is available to fire departments and law enforcement agencies across the United States. 

“We feel law enforcement officials should have every tool possible to combat this costly—and sometimes deadly—crime,” program coordinator Heather Paul explained. “These K9s enable investigators to do their job more efficiently and effectively. The scope of arson goes beyond impacting insurance companies—it affects the personal and financial well-being of us all. Training dogs to detect accelerants at fire scenes saves time and money in arson investigations.”

A new component that the state fire marshal’s office and Forest Service have adopted is training these dogs to fly on choppers to get to fire scenes as quickly as possible.

“Sharing each agency’s resources to support critical investigations is a valuable tool when protecting Maine people and property,” Chief Forest Ranger Robby Gross explained.

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