Let’s get the obvious question out of the way.
No, the newest four-legged hire at the University of North Texas Police Department is not named after Keegan Brewer, the guy who deserves an Academy Award for his epic 90-yard punt return against the University of Arkansas last Saturday.
But Keegan the K-9 might soon be as popular as the UNT wide receiver when he roams Apogee Stadium this football season.
The 1 1/2-year-old yellow Labrador retriever made his online debut Monday in a social media video showing him easily besting his service animal competitors — a rooster, pig and cat — for the job. He’s already made the rounds on campus and received plenty of attention from students.
“They all miss their dogs at home,” said Keegan’s handler, Officer Nick Brauchle. “One girl who was having a bad day came up and asked if she could pet him. She said Keegan made her day so much better.”
Our mission: find the perfect animal to serve with us. One to assist @MeanGreenSports games or @UNT_DSA events, support the mission & goals of #UNT, help maintain a safe campus & make @UNTsocial & @UNTPrez proud. It was a lot of work, but we think we made the best choice! pic.twitter.com/RswcvrnSpM— UNT Police Dept. (@UNTPolice) September 17, 2018
Behind all the chin scratches and high-pitched squeals people let out when they see him, Keegan has a job to do. As an explosives detection dog, he and Brauchle are charged with checking every square inch of event spaces to make sure there aren’t any possible bombs or suspicious packages lying around.
They’ll be on hand for major happenings like football games and graduations as well as smaller UNT-sponsored events off-campus that involve controversial speakers who may bring a higher threat risk.
Keegan is the first K-9 in the department since Joy, the Belgian Malinois drug dog, retired in 2016 at age 12.
“We knew we wanted an explosives detection dog,” UNT Police Chief Ed Reynolds said. “Obviously, drug detection is important, but with the things going on — what we’ve seen this summer down in Austin with the bombings and what they’ve dealt with — human safety is our highest priority.”
The dog was born in Auburn, Alabama, (don’t worry, he doesn’t seem to be a Tigers fan) and completed socialization training at a low-security prison. Then he went to sniff school and learned to detect 10 types of explosives. After seven weeks of handler training with Brauchle, the pair headed back to Denton earlier this month.
Keegan’s keen sense of smell is particularly suited to crowds. He’s able to walk through hundreds of people and detect a single trace of bomb-making material. When he completes his task, he’s rewarded with a lot of praise and his favorite ball.
“He is a high-energy dog and he searches very fast,” Brauchle said. “I just have to keep up with him and let him do his job. I’m here to direct him, but he still leads the way.”
When he’s not on the clock, Keegan is still very much a puppy. He lives with Brauchle and loves to gnaw on Nylabones. During an interview on Wednesday, the dog zoomed around the conference room at the Sullivant Public Safety Center and playfully tugged at his leash.
“Can we relax?” Brauchle cooed at him.
Keegan wagged his tail but did not comply.
As with all good service dogs, a switch flips in Keegan’s brain when it’s time to work. Brauchle will hold the leash differently and change his body language. Keegan will follow suit, perking up his ears and putting his nose to the grindstone.
“There are a lot of added responsibilities, but there’s also the joy of having him as a partner,” Brauchle said. “He just wants to work and he’s very good at it.”
If you want to say hello to Keegan, he and Brauchle will be at UNT’s Safety Fair from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday on the Library Mall. Hopefully, he’ll have a green collar by then.