SALT LAKE CITY — Customers leave an average of 17,000 items on UTA trains and buses every year.
To avoid delays and dispel potential safety hazards more quickly, the Utah Transit Authority has retained the help of a young springer spaniel named Daisy.
"We get lots of unintended packages, and unless you check the bags, you don't know what's in them," UTA Police Capt. Gary McGrath said, noting that transportation in any city is critical infrastructure and "would be the target for any type of terrorism."
And Salt Lake City isn't exempt.
Daisy is the second explosive-detection dog to be added to the more than 70-officer force, and they're the only two equipped with natural instincts to hunt and hold onto their catch, which helps them detect harm with just a sniff.
Daisy is small enough, McGrath said, to get under seats and into overhead bins and racks.
Born in Ireland, the small, 30-month-old brown-and-white spotted dog was bred for police work and just finished eight weeks of intense training to memorize thousands of scents of various products used to make explosives. She can also track down recently fired handguns and shell casings, which could make her useful in finding evidence that is dumped along UTA routes or elsewhere.
"She can clear a platform in a few minutes," said canine handler and UTA police officer Tony Brereton. He's a retired Salt Lake City K-9 officer and knows a bit about training dogs to do police work.
"They're more efficient and more reliable," he said. "They rely on their sense of smell and we only use sight. Things we can't see, they can detect."
If Daisy smells even the tiniest odor of explosive material, she either deliberately sits, stands or lays down right by the area, turning her head back at Brereton or whomever is handling her at the time to indicate something is there. She goes home with Brereton at the end of the day and is free to roam inside their home, but sleeps safely within a dog crate during the night.
Every day, early, however, she's ready to go, Brereton said.
"Hopefully she doesn't find a whole lot, but serves as a deterrent to someone who might've wanted to do something here," he said. The dog is friendly and approachable, which is important when working around so many people.
Officials just want people to ask the handler first if they want to pet Daisy or the agency's other dog, Bobbie, a 70-pound German shorthair, who joined the force a year ago.
The two dogs are able to sniff-search a suspicious bag left on UTA property or in its vicinity before local law enforcement can be called. It cuts down on schedule delays and decreases any potential danger, allowing UTA police to evacuate the area sooner than arriving cops could, if necessary.
"A lot of packages seem suspicious, but we don't know if they're planted or merely left there," McGrath said.
Just last month, a passenger absent-mindedly left a large, taped up tin can filled with rocks — later determined to be a man's rock collection — at one of the stations.
The dogs will come in handy when UTA prepares for an influx of passengers during major events held downtown. It is anticipated that the dogs will become a familiar sight at stations and on trains and buses from Ogden to Provo.
"If somebody wanted to do a dirty deed knowing a thousand people will be coming through, this would be where they do it," McGrath said. "This is just one more step to improve our services."
Evacuations will happen whenever it is deemed necessary, the captain said, adding that he doesn't even want his own officers to be in danger until something can be figured out.
"We have a safety agenda here, but UTA is in the business of moving people and we just want to move them more safely," McGrath said.