Stanford campus has a canine protector

A deputy and his dog play unsung roles in making the university a safe stop for high-profile guests.

Deputy Adam Cullen and Red, a black Labrador retriever, have worked together over the past eight years to make the Stanford campus a safer place for everyone, including visitors and prominent guests.

Randolph JamalDeputy Adam Cullen with K-9 Red

Deputy Adam Cullen of the Department of Public Safety works with Red, who is trained to detect bomb threats.

Cullen is a K-9 officer with the Department of Public Safety. Since 2007, he and Red have worked events on campus and across the Bay Area, searching for explosives prior to the arrival of VIPs and responding to suspicious packages.

"You name the dignitary, we have done it," Cullen said. "I can't tell you the number of dignitaries we have had here, ranging from the president to Oprah to the Dalai Lama.

"We leapfrog in front of wherever the dignitaries are going, so we'll search that area and then, once it's clear, we'll go on to the next area that they are going."

Growing up with dogs prepared Cullen for the task of working with a canine companion.

"I have had dogs all my life growing up ... but never had a working dog, never did a lot of training with dogs," Cullen said. "But I always had them around in the house from the time I was a kid to now. Obviously, my first working dog was Red."

Despite the immense responsibility that is placed on both officer and dog, Cullen said that Red is like any other pooch.

"Just a lot of energy," Cullen said. "She's got a very high work drive, and basically what that means is that she loves to smell things."

Cullen was paired with Red after the Hawaii Police Department at the last second turned down an opportunity to work with the dog.

"We were looking for a bomb dog at that time and we contacted the trainers," Cullen said. "They said they had a bomb dog ready to go, and that was Red."

Red is an explosive ordnance detection (EOD) dog. She is trained to detect bomb threats prior to the arrival of a bomb squad. The training process to become an EOD dog is difficult, even for an animal that has 220 million scent receptors, 214 million more than the human nose. Cullen said that Red led the way in their training.

"I went to class with her for six weeks; it was a refresher for her but for me, it was all brand new," Cullen said. "It was more me learning how to work with Red. It was easy for her because she already knew all the odors, so she was kind of dragging me around for six weeks.

"The way scent detection works is that, basically, it is just a giant game of hide-and-seek for the dog," Cullen said. "We're training them to react in a certain way when they smell a certain smell. We introduce an odor to them and we have them do what is called a passive indication, or a sit-and-stay, so when she comes across an explosive, she'll sit and stay. She then gets a reward, which is a ball. When that ball comes out, she knows that it is time to go look for explosives."

Cullen said he and Red have only been called out to two reports of possible explosives on campus and he is thankful that there have not been more.

"A lot of bomb dogs will go their entire career without finding an actual explosive, which mostly I am OK with," Cullen said. "We hide real explosives when we train and that is scary enough for me. They are stable, but the whole fact that that is what we are looking for is a little unsettling."

According to Cullen, Red does not recognize the danger she puts herself in when she is searching for explosives.

"The funny thing is, to the dog, she has no clue. To the dog, it's just a game."

Alex Murray is an intern at University Communications.