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SHERIFF'S NEWEST ASSET HAS A NOSE FOR TROUBLE

The Erie County Sheriff's Department's newest member not only sits down on the job a lot, but he expects to be fed by hand when he's on duty.

Tobler, a chocolate Labrador retriever whose expertise is detecting explosives, was introduced Thursday morning at the Sheriff's Department heliport in Hamburg.

His debut was impressive. He found a gun, hidden in a backpack, that had not been fired in 10 years, and detected firecrackers in a box and old shotgun shells in an envelope.

Tobler also found the box with ammonium nitrate, one of the chemicals used in the Oklahoma City bombing, and the vial of ammonium nitrate planted in Sheriff Patrick Gallivan's back pocket.

"There's no better tool out there than this dog," said James A. McNally, public information officer for the Boston field office of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. "They can now find a firearm fired on one occasion."

Tobler was donated to the Sheriff's Department by the ATF, and is the second ATF-trained explosives-sniffing dog in the Northeast. Police departments and many airports have bomb-sniffing dogs trained through other programs.

Sgt. Sean Simet, a certified bomb technician who heads up the Sheriff's Department weapons and ordnance unit, is Tobler's handler. The 2-year-old dog underwent six weeks of training at an ATF facility in Virginia, and Simet then went to Virginia for a 10-week training course with the dog. After the training, the dog now is worth $40,000, Gallivan said.

Simet said Tobler, who lives with him and his family, provides another tool for the bomb squad.

"A lot of times we were putting people in harm's way when we could have used another tool," he said. "We would use the dog to search in areas that are difficult for us to check."

When Tobler finds an explosive, he sits in front of the item. He then is rewarded with food.

"He doesn't have a mean bone in his body. You might have to worry about him licking you to death," Simet said.

The sheriff said that like the department's other specially trained units, Simet and Tobler will be available to help throughout Western New York if needed.

"We've added yet another tool to our arsenal, if you will, to help keep Erie County citizens . . . safe," Gallivan said.

Tobler is the fourth dog working for the Sheriff's Department, joining an arson-detecting and two drug-sniffing dogs.

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