Meet Balu: WCSO has first Kinetic Detection Dog in Tennessee

Published 9:27 am Tuesday, July 11, 2023

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JONESBOROUGH – Washington County Sheriff’s Office has a new working dog with a new handler, and the pair is pretty special.

K9 Sgt. Balu is a two-and-a-half-year-old German Shorthaired Pointer and the first Kinetic Explosive Detection Dog (KEDD) in the State of Tennessee. His handler is Deputy Katy Pellien, who is WCSO’s first female K9 handler. She is also a School Resource Officer, currently assigned to Gray School.

“When we began the search to add a new dog to our program, we knew we needed an explosives detection dog,” explained Sheriff Keith Sexton. “We worked with Global K9 Protection Group in Alabama, and they suggested we have a handler that hadn’t worked with narcotics dogs before because kinetic detection dogs work differently.”

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Balu is part of Global K9’s Paws on Patrol School Safety Program. It is the first in the nation to focus on using dogs trained for explosives and firearms in a school setting. The dogs are trained to be deployed in a dynamic campus environment, using a layered security approach that brings law enforcement, school officials and K9 officers together.

Pellien, who previously handled one of WCSO’s ambassador dogs, was the perfect choice for the specialty dog. She spent six weeks at Auburn University learning how Balu works, and how to work a crowd. Auburn’s College of Veterinary Studies Canine Performance Center houses the program, giving deputies like Pellien an on-campus environment in which to train.

“A kinetic explosives detection dog is always working,” Sexton explained. “With a narcotics dog, you signal for them to work. With Balu, he wakes up working. He’s taking the lead and Deputy Pellien follows that lead.”

Balu is trained to screen large crowds by following the smell of explosive materials. He’s constantly sniffing for body-worn and concealed-carried explosives or firearms. Once Balu picks up on a scent, he falls in line behind the person and “alerts” Pellien to the potential threat.

Kinetic dogs like Balu view people as a productive search area. Training occurs in shopping centers, ball parks, airports and on the campus of Auburn University. Once the dogs are proficient in a controlled environment, they are introduced into operational conditions like the areas in which they will be expected to perform during daily operations.

Balu is certified in accordance with the United Police Work Dog Association (UPWDA) Standards. This certification consisted of a series of practical evaluations in which he safely searched, detected and properly responded to detect firearms and explosives.
“Not only is Balu a unique working dog, he’s really friendly,” Sexton said. “We know that having dogs in the schools helps reduce stress, and improves interactions between students and our SROs. He’s a great addition to our growing pack.”

WCSO’s K9 team includes six working dogs and three ambassador dogs. WCSO’s other working dogs are trained in discovering narcotics, article searches, apprehension and tracking.