Sniffer dog Heidi finds hidden electronics

After 27 years on the job as a detective at the San Jose Police Department (SJPD), I recently retired and immediately began my second career at MSAB.

At the SJPD I spent eight years doing digital forensics and for the last three of those I was assigned to the Silicon Valley Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC). It was during that assignment that I was paired with the best partner of my entire career (hint…she’s yellow, furry and walks on all fours).

When my ICAC Commander approached me three years ago with the idea of being the ICAC K-9 handler, I had never heard of a dog that could find hidden electronic storage devices. Some of you may still not know there are dogs with this amazing ability. I’m sure many of you know the story of the former Subway sandwich pitchman, Jared Fogle, and his conviction for possession of child pornography. Fogle was sentenced in 2015 to more than 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to sex acts with minors and distribution of child pornography.

It was an ESD K-9 that found the heavily concealed “smoking gun”. That key piece of evidence had been overlooked by over a dozen federal agents doing a search by hand and would have never been found without a dog.

Before witnessing it firsthand, I would never have imagined a dog could sniff out cell phones, hard drives, thumb drives and even the smallest micro SD card. The amount of scent on these devices is minuscule in comparison to other odors like a kilo of cocaine or a buried body. This makes an ESD K-9’s ability that much more amazing.

How Heidi became a secret weapon for solving high-tech crimes

My K-9, Heidi, never ceased to surprise me with her talent and intelligence. She assisted with dozens of searches and found at least one electronic storage device on every single search. It wasn’t always an important piece of evidence, but any find is a huge accomplishment.

Our normal procedure was to first do a complete search by hand then have Heidi do a run through after “all” the evidence had been removed. It was always satisfying when Heidi found items that were missed during the hand search.

One such search was especially satisfying. Heidi and I assisted a federal agency on an extremely high-profile case. Prior to our arrival, the feds had been searching the house for over eight hours. Heidi started her search and within five minutes found a concealed external hard drive tucked into the back of a desk drawer. An hour later, Heidi found, in a pile of clothing, a stack of passports that the feds had been looking for (a little-known fact: passports contain an RFID chip). Heidi’s police career lasted only a year and a half, but she made a huge impact in that short amount of time.

It was fairly easy for me to adapt to retired life, but it was much more difficult for Heidi. She just turned three years of age and she still has a lot of drive in her. For the first few weeks after retiring, she would get excited as I got ready in the morning. Her favorite part of the day was going to work. We’ve assisted on a couple of searches post-retirement and, par for the course, Heidi got her “finds”.

It was so rewarding to see Heidi get pumped up for her searches again. Although working for MSAB allows me to continue helping with the “mission”, I know Heidi wants to do her part too.

If there are any agencies on the West Coast (primarily California) who would like Heidi to assist on a search warrant, we would love to come out and help. I would also be happy to meet with your forensic examiners to demo the latest features of XRY, XAMN and pick their brains on what new features they’d like to see in our product.

Contact me anytime at