Campus News

Explosive detection K-9 retires after 7 years of sniffing out danger

After seven years of keeping the UNC community safe, Kash has earned “a steak or two” in retirement, says UNC Police K-9 handler Matt Dodson.

Officer Matt Dodson with black Labrador dog posing at UNC's Kenan Stadium
Together, UNC Police K-9 Handler Matt Dodson and Kash have worked more than 150 UNC Athletics events. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

As a K-9 handler for UNC Police, most of Investigator Matt Dodson’s days are never the same. One constant? Coming into work every day with his four-legged partner Kash, a 9-year-old black Labrador retriever. 

Since 2015, Kash has been a valued member of UNC Police, serving as a single-purpose K-9 certified in explosives and firearms detection. After almost seven years on the force, Kash is set to retire. 

UNC Police first acquired the black lab when he was close to 2 years old. 

Dodson says Kash was a “green canine,” meaning he had no prior training and could only sit on command. The department admired Kash’s drive and excitement when chasing a tennis ball, so they decided he had the qualities to make a working K-9. For six weeks, both Dodson and Kash trained at the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office. Since then, the lab has lived with Dodson in Alamance County and commuted to Chapel Hill with him, as well as accompanying him to Fayetteville two days each month for additional training. 

“He’s part of our family, just like any other dog would be at home. But then when he comes to work, he’s ready to work,” Dodson said. 

One of Kash’s biggest achievements was passing the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms National Odor Recognition Test in 2017. The national test is pass or fail, with no in-between. Dodson says most explosive detection dogs within a couple hundred miles come to take part in the competition. 

All of Kash’s work is scent-based. As an explosive detection K-9, he performs protective sweeps at campus athletic events or when dignitaries come to campus. 

Alongside Dodson, Kash served at more than 150 UNC Athletics events. Until this past season, he worked at every basketball and football game since his first year in Chapel Hill.  

One of Dodson’s favorite memories on the job with Kash was working with the Secret Service during President Barack Obama’s 2016 visit to Chapel Hill. 

“When you’re talking about high-level security, that’s probably the highest there is for an event. So that’s really cool,” Dodson said. 

Dodson and Kash have also taken their explosive detection experience to other parts of the community and state. During the 2016 election, the duo traveled around the state for events involving nearly every presidential candidate at the time. The pair has been deployed to assist neighboring agencies and universities to investigate bomb threats or conduct firearms searches. 

“He has protected thousands of people and made sure that these events could be run safely. So now I feel like it’s time for him to enjoy his well-deserved retirement with us at home,” Dodson said. 

But Kash isn’t cashing in his “401-K9” just yet. For the next few weeks, he will continue to serve until his replacement is ready to follow in his footsteps, or rather paw prints. The new recruit will join two other UNC Police K-9s, Bella and J-Jak. 

One thing Kash can look forward to in retirement is an altered diet. Dodson says working K-9s have a regimented meal plan of high protein food, no table scraps allowed. 

“The biggest thing is his diet will not be so strict now. It’s been very strict his whole life, so he might get a steak or two,” said Dodson. 

Besides the occasional upgraded dinner, Kash can look forward to living at home or enjoying vacations with Dodson, his wife Amber, who works as a radiology technician supervisor in the Adams School of Dentistry, and their two children. Kash will forever be a member of two families. 

“I’m glad that the department decided to do what was probably best for him first and me second, which is just let us stay together and let him continue to be with me, because my family is his family and the police department is his family,” said Dodson.