If you’re looking to snag a photo with Penn’s new four-legged celebrity, you can find her strutting down Locust in the afternoons.
Socks, an 18-month-old yellow labrador retriever, is the first dog to be a part of the Division of Public Safety’s new Canine Unit. After 10 weeks and 400 hours of bomb detection training at K-9 Academy in Atlantic County, Officer Socks and her handler, Officer Julie Wesley, are now hitting the streets to protect Penn’s campus.
Socks and Wesley continue to train every day, performing tasks like obedience and agility training, and practicing searching for hidden items. “I had her on Locust searching trash cans and planners and grates in the ground,” Wesley said. “The students are fascinated by her.”
On the first day of class at K-9 Academy, Wesley said, the dogs were tested on how well they could handle different environmental issues, like slippery floors and dark corners.
This was the beginning of Socks’ environmental training, during which she was exposed to issues that she might encounter when working in the field, like different types of weather and loud noises. Socks and Wesley traveled around New Jersey to airports, bus terminals, train stations and schools to ensure Socks was comfortable in different scenarios.
During her training, Socks was also “imprinted” on about two dozen explosive devices, Wesley said. Imprinting consisted of exposing Socks to explosive materials — or just their scents — and training her to recognize each one. The scents were rolled up inside towels and played with like toys.
After Socks spent about a week learning to recognize each scent, trainers would hide the new scent and have Socks search for it. When she found it, she sat down and was played with as a reward. Now when Socks walks around campus or arrives at the scene of potential bomb, she can detect if these explosives are present.
Socks’ skills will be very valuable to DPS, especially when dignitaries come to Penn, Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush said.
Before Vice President Joe Biden spoke at commencement in 2013, there were five and a half hours of canine searches by a unit of bomb-sniffing dogs. If there is ever a dangerous situation where a dog is needed to sniff for bombs on Penn’s campus, DPS no longer has to wait for a dog from the Philadelphia Police Department.
Rush said that DPS will eventually add a second bomb-sniffing dog to the Penn Police force so that at least one dog will be on duty for greater periods of time.
Socks started off her career at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, where she went through agility training and was taught basic commands. She learned how to get in and out of confined spaces, search high and low and walk on and through rubble. Once Socks was chosen to be the new Canine officer, the Working Dog Center also imprinted her on “black powder,” or gunpowder, in the same way that she was later imprinted on explosives.
While at the Working Dog Center, Socks’ foster parents — the people who took care of her outside of the center — were Craig Carnaroli, executive vice president of Penn, and his wife Amie Thornton.
“She’s a great girl and she’s very focused and she’s very smart,” Carnaroli said of DPS’ newest officer. Carnaroli and his wife took Socks around the country on different trips, helping her get used to new environments as a young puppy. “She can also be a little bit of a princess sometimes — she likes to sit on the couch and watch TV,” he joked.
Now, Socks spends her time living and working with Wesley. “It helps solidify that bond between us that she’s never far from me anywhere I go,” Wesley said. “She’s definitely the most loyal partner you could ever have.”