Columbus Fire's K-9 arson dog unexpectedly dies after playing Frisbee

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K-9 Baxter, a black Labrador retriever who specialized in tracking arsons for the Columbus Division of Fire, died late last month of natural causes, the division announced Wednesday.

The 3-year-old had been in service with the fire department since graduating on June 9, 2017, from an accelerant detection program, a department release said.

Baxter, who worked with handler Lew Smith, collapsed suddenly on Nov. 27 after Frisbee chasing at Berliner Sports Park across from Fire Station 3 on Greenlawn Avenue, the release said.

“Baxter died while doing what he loved best, which was playing Frisbee,” Smith said. Preliminary results of an necropsy found that Baxter apparently died of natural causes.

The search for a replacement has already begun. Baxter was the only dog trained to detect accelerants; two other dogs with the department detect bombs.

Meanwhile, Paz, who had been retired for 6½ years, has been reactivated to fill Baxter’s job temporarily. Paz lives with Smith and his wife, Karen.

“Whenever I would work with Baxter at home, Paz would watch and try and jump in,” Smith said. Paz is “a little heavier now, but he’s steady. He knows the game, though he works at a more relaxed pace, unlike a younger dog.”

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