Child pornographers can easily hide photos and videos of children on tiny computer hardware making it difficult for law enforcement to find. But the Manatee County Sheriff's Office has a new crime fighting tool: a four-legged deputy hat can sniff out the evidence and she didn't cost taxpayers.
The newest deputy is K-9 Gia, a 14-month-old puppy who is a specialist in electronic detection. She can sniff out computer hardware used by child pornographers.
“Anything that can hold a memory,” says Detective Joni Zimmermann, Gia’s handler with the sheriff’s office.
During mock training, Gia walked along several electrical outlets and sat in front of one. The deputy opened the outlet and found a flash drive.
Gia’s sense of smell is so strong she can detect computer hardware smaller than a dime.
“Gia walks in a room and she can smell the computer like we can smell pizza,” says Lt. Richie Cunningham, Gia’s trainer and head of the K-9 unit for the sheriff’s office.
Gia is so rare she’s one of only a handful in the country.
“She’s like bringing a flashlight into a dark room,” says Zimmermann.
In August, Gia, Zimmermann, and Cunningham went looking for an odor-smelling dog to train.
“She needed to be driven, needed to be friendly,” Zimmerman says.
They found Gia at Bishop Animal Shelter SPCA in Bradenton for free, saving taxpayers $20,000 for a dog like her.
“These dogs can be trained to do anything. It's just about putting forth the effort,” says Samantha Dominis, public relations specialist for Bishop Animal Shelter.
After eight months of bonding, training, and imprinting that computer odor in her favorite toy, Gia and Zimmermann are partners working Internet crimes against children.
Cunningham says with Gia as a new crime-fighting tool. Child pornographers better watch out.
“Hide it, it’s just a challenge now. Gia is coming in -- she will find it.”