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Krista Sutherland

Just when you think that you’ve grasped all of the incredible things that dogs can do, you’re met with another incredible story, like “Queue,” the 6-year-old electronic detection K-9 Labrador Retriever. She helps the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office in South Carolina convict child abusers and traffickers as part of the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) unit — all by sniffing out hidden electronics. She’s part of the Defenders for Children program that aims to prevent child abuse, trafficking, and child pornography. Queue not only plays a crucial role in identifying electronics and hidden cameras, she’s also a huge comfort to the officers that work on heavy, often traumatic cases like these.

Queue’s incredible nose and contribution to the force is what earned her the 2023 Award for Canine Excellence in the Uniformed Services K-9 category. Each year, the AKC Humane Fund awards five dogs who do extraordinary things in the service of humankind in different categories: Service Dog, Search and Rescue Dog, Therapy Dogs, Exemplary Companions, and Uniformed Service K-9s, like Queue. Dogs in this category are full-time working K-9s in the realms of city, county, state, or federal law enforcement, including the military, firefighting, customs and border patrol, and emergency services.

Introducing K-9s to the ICAC Unit

Queue and her handler, Sergeant Michael Rainey, who supervises the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) division, have been working together since 2018. Even though he’d never worked with a K-9 before, they clicked early on. He admits that he was a little nervous early on, but she received prior training before she got to him. “It all just clicked and fell into place. I didn’t have any other K-9 experience, because they are, from what I’m learning and what I see, different,” he says. “But I didn’t have to change. That was what I was learning and what I was trained for, so there was no difference for me.” Sgt. Rainey started in the unit in 2007 as an Investigator, and was then promoted to Master Deputy before his current role as Sergeant in 2017. He focuses on computer forensic battery recovery and forensic work, but even so, is always impressed by Queue’s work.

Queue was donated to the Greenville County Sheriff’s office by Defenders for Children, and she was the first dog to be donated to an ICAC unit to be used in this way. A lot was riding on her performance: these K-9s are donated, so in order to get people to raise money to add more dogs to police units, Queue’s ability to help solve cases mattered.

Krista Sutherland

Toni Clark, the Executive Director of Defenders For Children, mentioned that although conversations about catching child pornography perpetrators has increased, the statistics regarding the numbers of abused children weren’t going down. “The stats were not budging. We knew we needed to do something different. We’d never dealt with dogs, but I’ve always wanted to connect dogs with the children.” And so began Defenders For Children’s partnership with K-9s and police departments like Greenville’s.

When they met with Sgt. Rainey, the department was dealing with close to a thousand child abuse cases a year. But Clark says Sgt. Rainey didn’t bat an eye when it came to trying a new approach. “He volunteered to take on that first dog as pretty much like a guinea pig, and go through all this training on top of his staff, which is huge.”

And it paid off. Queue’s been very successful, and the 11th K-9 is in the process of being placed in a police department because of the bar she’s set. “It just blows my mind some of the stuff that they can actually pick up on, and actually find,” Sgt. Rainey says. “To me, it’s just fascinating.”

Finding Hidden Evidence

What Queue and Sgt. Rainey do together might seem complicated, but it’s simpler than you might think. A team comes into the space and removes all visible electronics to look for evidence: any computers or cameras that they see, and do a full sweep of the location. But not everything is visible to the naked eye, even the most observant. Micro SD cards, for example, can be so small that they are the size of a fingernail. Hidden cameras can be as tiny as a pinpoint in the wall. The K-9s act as a secondary search team to find evidence. And Queue finds it all — with her nose.

William Donohue

“A lot of times law enforcement will go out, they know a person is guilty, but they can’t find proof,” Clark says. That’s where dogs like Queue come in. When they’re brought in to an area to look for hidden electronic devices and cameras, they’re essentially doing scent work. Sgt. Rainey says they’re trained to find the scent of tiny traces of a common chemical that is within in Read/Write media devices, which refers to storage devices whose data can be read by computers, and also record data. This includes everything from computer towers to hard drives, tablets, cell phones, all the way down to micro SD cards, which could be hidden anywhere.

Clark says that in one instance a micro SD card was hidden in a jar of coins – inside a fake coin. “They have these new coins where they’re cut in half. They’ll put micro SD cards inside of them, so you can’t see it with the average eye,” says Clark. “It’s a tiny drop, just a tiny new drop that could be on a micro SD card. You really have to know it’s in there, and the dogs can smell it.”

Helping Solve Abuse Cases, One Scent at a Time

One of Queue’s biggest finds was also one of the smallest. During one search, Queue was brought in after all of the visible electronics were taken out, and she kept going over to the bookshelf. Officers looked through it, fanned through the books and looked through the bookshelf, but couldn’t find anything. Still, Queue kept going back to the bookshelf. Sgt. Rainey told the officers there was something there, but the officers insisted that they’d thoroughly checked everything. “This went back and forth a couple of times,” Clark says.

Way up at the top of the shelf, behind the books, was a black pen. “You could click it, open it, write with it. It ended up being a hidden camera.”

Toni Clark

“There have been several cases that she’s found stuff that wouldn’t have been discovered without her being there,” Sgt. Rainey says. “Without her finding what she found in [many] cases, it would have been super difficult to move forward. But with the evidence and information that was discovered, it helped solidify the case. It’s rewarding to see that she’s done this.”

This is just one instance of Queue being able to sniff out evidence that changed the course of an investigation. “People have to realize these things are hidden in items. If I said, go look for devices, if you looked at this pen, you’re going to click it and go, ‘oh, it’s a pen,'” Clark says. She emphasizes that these items are meant to be hidden, and often wouldn’t be found with the naked eye. “You would not think twice about it, but that dog can smell it.”

The dogs are trained to find these specific scents, just as they would be trained in scent training. This training is done primarily by a master trainer that works with Defenders for Children and the K-9s. “It’s all scent driven, but it’s that insurance policy. You’re getting that extra validation of, okay, there’s nothing here,” Sgt. Rainey says. “We’re not leaving something behind. It’s really cool to see her work, even though I’m her handler. It’s almost new every time.”

“She’s food-driven. We go out, we hunt, we seek, we find it. You give [the dog] praise, let them know they did a great job, and then they get their reward so that they know that they’ve found something,” Sgt. Rainey says. “They know they’ve done it, but at the same token, it’s almost like hide-and-seek.” Their master trainer uses scent work to teach dogs how to find specific scents, and then trains them to look for the specific scent in electronics for the ICAC unit.

A Professional, But Still a Beloved Pet

Queue and Sgt. Rainey may work together, but she is also his dog. Sgt. Rainey gets the best of both worlds in Queue: a dedicated K-9 partner and a loving pet. She goes where he goes, works when he works, and has off of work when he does.

Toni Clark

He says she really is a professional at what she does, but knows when she’s not working. “When she goes home, she’ll go play, and it’s almost like a light switch. She knows when it’s time to go to work, and she knows when we pull back up to the house, she’s off work, and she can go run and play.”

“You can tell she knows when she finds something, but her demeanor doesn’t really change a whole lot. There are other K-9s that bounce up and down, and they’re all different, they’ll give you their sign to show you ‘hey, it’s here.’ But for her, she stays even keel no matter what it is. She’s steady all the way across.”

A Comfort to Victims and Officers Alike

Queue’s duties in the office aren’t limited to searches and finding key evidence to charge criminals. She’s also a certified therapy dog, and it shows in her work. Sgt. Rainey says that other officers will frequently pop into his office to pet Queue or take her for a walk. “When they come into our office, they’re here because they’re not necessarily having the best of days, and she picks up on that.” Even people who don’t really consider themselves dog people quickly warm up to Queue. “Before the end of the day, I’ve actually had a couple of people come up to me and go, ‘I really wasn’t a dog person until her.’ That support, she brings it out. People like it.”

“They are so smart and intense,” Sgt. Rainey says of Labrador Retrievers like Queue. “Labs in general want to please, and they want everyone to be happy. It’s really refreshing to have her around, not just for me, but for other officers and the general public.”

Krista Sutherland

For officers as well as victims and their families, Queue is able to provide comfort. Those directly involved in these abuse cases as well as those working on the cases feel the deep weight of such horrific acts, and Queue acts as a source of relief, even for a moment.

“She sits in on other investigator’s interviews, not only with children, but also with adult victims as well. She’s that one that if somebody needs comforting and, for lack of a better term, when somebody needs a shoulder, she’s there,” Sgt. Rainey says. “If you’re sitting there, she’s going to nudge up against you, want you to pet on her, love on her, that reassurance that we’re going to get through this.”
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