By WILL DIGRAVIO
This story appeared in the Burlington Free Press on August 6. The story and a video I narrated can be found online, here.
The story of Mojo the porn dog is one of redemption.
After he flunked out of service dog training for being too goofy, it was unclear what the yellow Labrador would do next. But, shortly thereafter, he was adopted by Todd Jordan, the man who trained the dog that helped put longtime Subway spokesman Jared Fogle behind bars.
“He was one of my favorite dogs,” Jordan said of Mojo. “He’s comical, just a really good personality.”
While Mojo may have a good sense of humor, and his colloquial job title “porn dog” may prompt a chuckle, he has been charged with one of the most unfunny, serious jobs in law enforcement: putting those in possession of child pornography behind bars.
Since January of this year, Mojo has been an active member of the Vermont Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. He uses his nose to detect an industry secret acid found in small, digital storage devices — USBs, micro SD cards, external hard drives, et al. — that may be hidden in a suspect’s home and contain child pornography.
Mojo has deployed on 22 search warrants, and in 11 of those instances, he found devices missed by human searchers, said Detective Matthew Raymond, who commands the task force and is also Mojo’s handler.
Jordan, the foremost expert on electronic detection canines has trained 20 dogs like Mojo in the last four years. He founded his company, Jordan Detection K9, in 2015, after his dog Bear helped locate the devices Fogle used to store child pornography.
His dogs have joined law enforcement teams around the country, in places like Washington, Illinois and Utah, and are revolutionizing the way investigators look for illicit material.
They have found hidden devices everywhere from secret pockets in bags to behind three-inch thick gun safes. The latter was the case of Marvin Sharp, the USA Gymnastics coach who committed suicide in 2015 while being held on multiple charges of child molestation and sexual misconduct with a minor.
The oddest place Mojo has found a device? A secret bathroom drawer.
“When I learned about these dogs and their ability, we went for it,” Raymond said. “I don’t ever want to leave a scene where I think I haven’t done everything in my power to find a device.”
A big help in a small state
Vermont is lucky to have Mojo, whose skill set is rare even for dogs. Jordan estimates there are only about 30 electronic detection dogs in the country, of which he has personally trained two-thirds at his facility in Greenfield, Indiana.
When a trained dog picks up the scent of a device, he or she is taught to sit in the odor. The handler will then say, “Show me,” and the dog will point their nose to indicate the location of a device.
Whereas it may take a team of four people 12 hours to find a digital storage device, Raymond said Mojo can do the same job in minutes. Because human investigators are now working alongside the best, Raymond said Mojo has increased his team’s productivity and thoroughness in searching for devices.
Cache is another Jordan-trained dog, a black Labrador handled by Megan Brooks, an investigator with the Will County State’s Attorney’s Office in Joliet, Illinois. Brooks said Cache has proven especially effective in hoarder homes, which are often full of boxes and bags of clothing and trash. With Cache, Brooks said, a search can be reduced from days to hours.
Giving dogs a second chance
Like Mojo, most of the dogs Jordan trains have been rescued. He adopted URL, a dog currently working in Utah, the day before he was set to be euthanized at a kill shelter. Before Jordan took him in, people said URL could never amount to anything.
“Now he’s one of the best dogs out there,” Jordan said.
Cache was put up for adoption twice for being too rambunctious before finding his new calling. That high energy, Brooks said, is what makes him perfect for his new job.
A trained dog, plus a two week training course for the handler, costs $11,000.
“He’s worth his weight in gold,” Brooks said of Cache.
The Vermont Attorney General’s Office received the funds to purchase Mojo’s services through a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, issued through the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention specifically for internet crimes against children task forces.
From 2010 to 2015, the Vermont Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force received 667 cyber tips, according to a 2016 study by the U.S. Department of Justice. This places Vermont third in New England, behind New Hampshire and Rhode Island, for number of tips received per capita.
More than just a nose
Raymond knew he was adding a transcendent nose to his team in Mojo. However, he did not anticipate the impact Mojo would have beyond expediting court sanctioned searches.
As one may imagine, emotions run high after police raid the home of someone suspected of possessing child pornography, especially if the suspect has an unknowing family with children of their own.
In those hectic moments, Raymond said, the dog can act as a source of comfort to a child or spouse, helping diffuse difficult situations. Brooks said her dog has even helped calm down suspects during the line of questioning.
“I get confessions because he’s sitting there petting the dog, telling me everything he’s done,” she said.
Back in Vermont, on days when Mojo is not in the field, he and Raymond both go to the office. Even for trained professionals, dealing with cases of child exploitation can cause vicarious trauma.
“This is some horrendous stuff to be doing every day and it can definitely grind on you,” Raymond said.
But, since he joined the task force, Mojo has literally and figuratively been a streak of light in an otherwise dark day.
While Raymond sits at his desk and does human work, Mojo begins dog work that is equally important: wandering around the office cubicles, prompting the usual cheers, pats, and excitement that come with an unexpected, yet welcome visit from a dog.
“You can tell it brightens up everybody’s day,” Raymond said. “Everybody doing this can use that.”
“You don’t realize how fried your brain gets and how you lose a grip with reality,” she said. “The dog is good mental health therapy for us.”
Raymond is often asked how Mojo is able to be a normal dog and ignore the odor emanating from a never ending stream of electronic devices when not on a search. The answer is pretty simple:
“You work for a paycheck and he does too,” he said.