The newest member of the Holly Springs Fire Department gets special treatment, despite having some bad work habits.
He sleeps on the job. He destroys some of his equipment. And he sometimes disobeys Chief LeRoy Smith.
But Smith is quick to dismiss those issues.
“He’s still learning,” Smith said. “He’s really a rock star.”
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Indeed, residents are pretty excited about the department’s newest member: Cinder, a four-month-old Austrailian Labradoodle.
Joe Harasti, Cinder’s main handler at the department, said people already have stopped them in public after reading about the puppy on Facebook.
“I had a woman stop me in the pet store the other day. She said ‘Aw, that’s Cinder!’ ” Harasti recalled.
“Yes. And do you know who I am?” the 13-year veteran firefighter replied. “She said, ‘No.’ ”
Cinder is the department’s first dog. The crew acquired him on Dec. 1 after contemplating whether to get a dog for several months, Smith said.
Smith said he wanted a work dog for a long time but didn’t seriously consider getting one until he learned that the Garner Fire Department recently got a Labradoodle.
After hearing great things about Garner’s dog, Moose, Smith decided to pursue the idea.
“We wanted to make sure he wouldn’t cost any tax dollars and that we could put him to good use,” Smith said.
A breeder from Florida donated Cinder, which Smith said saved the department $3,500. A local veterinarian is providing Cinder’s healthcare for free.
Once he’s trained, the department will put Cinder to work.
He’ll go through two eight-week-long training classes before the department can use him for fire safety demonstrations the same way Garner uses Moose.
Unlike Dalmatians, the traditional fire dog, Labradoodles are known for being smart and hypoallergenic. They’re also mild-mannered and gentle, said Garner Fire Chief Matt Poole, so the Garner department often takes Moose to local schools.
“(Moose) can stop, drop and roll, and he’s really good with kids,” Poole said.
Moose, who’s now about 18 months old, also can demonstrate how to evacuate a building that’s on fire, he said.
“Moose has a little doghouse with a smoke detector in it,” Poole said. “When the alarm goes off, he crawls out.”
Cinder, meanwhile, still chews on his red leash, which is noticeably frayed.
“We’re working on getting him to stop tugging at his leash,” Harasti said of the 15-pound dog. “That’s part of his training.”
After three weeks of training, Cinder can obey commands of “sit” and “stay.” He can fetch and occasionally bark on command.
“I want him to be able to bark once and then stop,” Smith said.
He practiced with Cinder on a recent Tuesday morning in his office. Cinder sat next to Smith’s desk as the chief held the toy over him.
“Do you want it? Tell me,” Smith told the dog.
Cinder eventually let out a low “gruph.”
Good enough for now, Smith said as he handed off the toy.
Months from now, Harasti and Smith envision Cinder capturing the attention of dozens of kids, acting as a therapy dog at local senior centers and hospital, and perhaps even starring in his own YouTube or Facebook videos.
“Cinder can definitely help give us a higher profile,” Harasti said. If residents see the dog around town or online, “maybe more people call us to come check their fire alarms,” he said.
In the meantime, they’re still figuring out the basics. They hope Cinder can learn as fast as he can find things to chew.
“What is that in his mouth?” Smith asked Harasti as they played with Cinder in his office.
Harasti pulled a snowman magnet out of Cinder’s mouth.
“That was on my refrigerator,” Smith said. “How did he even get that?”