The newest member of the George Mason University Police Department  hails from England, enjoys a vigorous scratch behind her ears, and has the best nose on the force.
Meet Lucy, a two-year-old purebred English springer spaniel that can detect a multitude of bombs, firearms, and ammunition.
Lucy, a graduate of explosive ordnance detection school, is Mason’s first K-9 officer. With a coat as lustrous as Kate Middleton’s locks and a vivacious personality to boot, Lucy is more than cuteness personified; she’s a working dog with a mission to protect and serve the George Mason community.
A bundle of nose-twitching alertness, Lucy knows she’s on the job when she dons her specially made uniform (a vest with her name on the front and a badge on the side), says her handler, master police officer John Arnold. Arnold has served as a police officer for a decade, five of those years at Mason.
The need for a dog with Lucy’s abilities became clear after University Police conducted a security assessment of the Patriot Center last summer, says University Police chief Eric Heath. Many universities with public arenas have dogs on staff, and University Police plans to add another canine unit by year’s end. Arnold and Lucy also will work with other police departments in the area.
Dogs of Lucy’s caliber are worth between $10,000 and $15,000. Mason turned to the nonprofit Northern Virginia Emergency Response System, which used a federal grant to pay for Lucy, her training, and her handler’s training. She received six months of rigorous training at a special facility in Alabama before moving to Virginia where she spent five weeks training with Arnold and her canine cohort.
More police departments are using dog breeds beyond the usual German shepherds and Labrador retrievers, Arnold says. English springer spaniels are hunting dogs known not only for their sniffing prowess and ability to flush birds into the air, but also for their gentle, friendly nature, which makes them ideal for helping people in distress, he says.
Arnold, a dog lover who’s bred and raised golden retrievers, has long wanted to join a K-9 unit. The bond between dog and handler goes beyond that of the usual police partnership. The pair spends 24 hours a day together, he says.
Despite her job, Lucy still gets in plenty of playtime. Her favorite toy is a ball, and she enjoys romping with Arnold’s two dogs, a golden retriever and a lab-beagle mix, and snuggling with Arnold’s two-year-old son.
Lucy also brings lightness to the workplace. Co-workers smile as they pass her in the hall. “After dealing with emails all day, it’s great therapy to rub a dog’s ears,” says assistant chief Tom Longo.