ATF K-9 & Special Agent visit
Recently, the pitterpatter of paws was heard in the halls of Northwestern College’s Bridgeview Campus when students in Charles Chigas’ Criminal Justice classes were treated to a visit from Special Agent Mitchell Wido of the US Department of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (ATF) and his partner Deja, an explosives detecting dog. The law enforcement pair regularly visits the Northwestern College Campus each year to talk about careers in law enforcement and what it’s like to have a partner that walks on four legs instead of two. Of course, Deja also provided the class with a demonstration of her skills by identifying explosives – residue in expended bullet casings - hidden around the class- room.
Deja, a five year old, 55 pound yellow Labrador Retriever, is a certified Explosives Detecting Canine with the ATF Bureau. Unlike other dogs that beg, roll over and play dead, Deja has just one trick – detecting explosives. She was specially trained to identify 19,000 different kinds of explosives during months of extensive training which she underwent as a puppy, partially with her partner, Special Agent Wido. She was trained to identify the scent of explosives and then immediately sit down to convey its presence to her handler. Upon successfully identifying the scent she was fed; upon falsely identifying explosives - sitting down after sniffing non-explosives - she was not fed. According to Special Agent Wido, Deja is trained to believe the explosives are food, for when she identifies it, she is fed. After Deja identifies explosives and sits, with a trick of the hand, Wido pretends as if he’s pulling Kibble from the area she alerted on, which she is given along with a pat on the head.
In order to maintain Deja’s special skills, she is never fed from a bowl like other dogs, but instead Wido must hide explosive residue fifteen (15) times a day so that he will be able to provide her with the two full cups of Kibble that she requires. Wido went on to explain to the class how challenging that can be, for he can’t simply drop an old bullet here and there – he must ensure that Deja works for it, sometimes 45 minutes to an hour before he brings her near the previously hidden explosives residue. Otherwise she will start to falsely alert within a few minutes simply because she’s used to identifying the scent within minutes. Doing this keeps her skills sharp and also prepares her for the yearly testing which she must pass in order to remain active with the ATF.
Deja has had an extraordinary career and has been instrumental in both protecting the public and locating key evidence in violent crimes. Most recently she was assigned to walk the parade route celebrating the Chicago Blackhawk’s championship to ensure the route was safe and that explosive devices had not been put into trash cans along the way. Deja was also brought up to Wisconsin following the fatal shooting at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin last August that left six dead and four others wounded, including an officer. Deja assisted in locating the hundreds of bullets both inside and outside the temple, in addition to performing a sweep of the suspect’s home prior to law enforcement officers entering to conduct a more thorough search.
In another incident, Deja was called out to assist in the search of a murder suspect’s house. When others had completed the search, Deja continued to alert in an empty section of a basement, jumping to put her paws on a high shelf that was empty. When local law enforcement tried to dismiss it, Special Agent Wido pressed on and law enforcement returned to the area where they eventually located the murder weapon tucked into insulation in the rafters of the basement.
Deja has worked at Cubs games, has been to Iraq twice and even assisted the President of the United States in Hawaii to ensure his safety at a meeting he was holding there. Special Agent Wido clarified, though, that Deja is called out for non-specific threats, such as calls that a bomb may be in a building.
Deja has her own email and Facebook page, “Canine Deja,” with a following of 292 friends. She lives with her handler, Special Agent Wido, and his family in the Chicagoland area, though they both travel and work nationwide. Wido has 31 years of experience in law enforcement. Prior to coming to the ATF Bureau in 1986 he was with the Oak Brook Police Department. Details can be found at www.northwesterncollege. edu or by calling 888-205-2283.