Mark is an investigator with the Upshur County Sheriff’s Office, and Nina, a yellow Lab, is his accelerant-sniffing dog.
As part of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) Task Force, they have worked dozens, if not hundreds, of cases.
To be a part of the ATF task force, both the handler and the dog must undergo extensive background checks, as well as training.
Nina has her own ATF identification card, and when Moore flies, she sits in the seat next to him, at the front of the cabin.
“We can go pretty much any place we want to,” he said. He just has to notify the airline a few days ahead of time. He said the airlines don’t mind, because then they don’t have to have a plain-clothes air marshal on board to guard against terrorists.
Moore is always armed when he travels.
Moore graduated from the ATF Academy at Fort Royal, Va. on Nov. 15 2006.
He said the ATF, FBI and U.S. Border Patrol all have facilities there.
An extremely intensive background check is performed on every potential candidate. The candidate must be a certified peace officer. ATF agents will go to the candidate’s area, and talk to school teachers, friends and family.
They also contact state and local law enforcement agencies.
When Moore became certified as an arson investigator, there were about 70 arson-investigating dogs across the country. Now there are 59, with five of those in Texas.
To get his certification, Moore had to attend ten weeks of training at the ATF Academy in Virginia.
During the ten weeks, potential handlers stay in barracks. They are evaluated on how they interact with a variety of dogs.
By the time dogs come in contact with the handlers, they are already “imprinted,” he said. “They already know what odors to alert on,” Moore said. They are unique animals, he said.
The motivation for the dog, other than praise, is food.
“The only time she gets to eat is when she’s working,” the investigator said. When she is not out on a case, he has to have a training exercise with her twice a day so that she can be fed.
All the dogs are neutered. The background of their parents and their parents temperaments are also checked and evaluated. This includes checking on health and personalities.
Then the puppies are evaluated.
“We don’t want an aggressive dog,” Moore said. “They have to be good around kids. When we are not working a case, we often do fire safety programs in schools.”
Indeed, when Moore had to go get something from truck while he was being interviewed, Nina introduced herself to this writer, then went down the hallway of the Upshur County Criminal Investigation Division to visit with the other investigators.
Moore is a certified and trained fire fighter, peace officer, and paramedic. He also is a certified building inspector.
Among his training are veterinary medicine procedures, and he has to keep a first-aid kit for the dog with him at all times.
Among the vet training is instructions in how to give a dog an IV. One part of the program is a “Canine Emergency First Aid Course.” They are also trained in how to tell if a dog is getting sick or being overcome by fumes.
Moore and Nina, as members of the ATF Task Force, are always available to other departments in Northeast Texas.
They were pressed into service when a series of church arsons began in nearby counties. The first one was in Canton. The next was in Athens. Eight others were burned later, including several in Smith County. There were also three church break-ins.
The two men responsible were caught and are now serving life sentences.
Moore is not limited to arson cases.
He’s also worked highly publicized homicide cases, including a case in Rains County, and another in Bowie County.
“We are the only show in town. Agents know they can call us.”
Moore has been seen on CNN in regards to his and Nina’s work.
He also works closely with Upshur County Fire Marshal Paul Steelman, who is a friend of his.
“We even go to the same church,” Moore said.
Moore said the light-colored Labs are usually sent to the South, while the brown or black varieties work in the North, because of the heat and sunlight in the South.
By the way, Nina spent the first months of her life behind bars—she’s a “prison dog,” raised in a prison in upstate New York.
There is a black Lab in Houston, “and the heat is really hard on him,” Moore said.
He said sometimes someone says to him that they would like to become a dog handler.
“I ask them if they have children,” he said. “I tell them that it is just like having an infant. I have to feed her and bath her.”
Nina is family. “She is with me 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said. “I don’t take my eyes off her.”
As a peace officer with fire fighter certification, Moore is continuing a family tradition.
His grandfather, Henry Fink, was the first paid fireman Gilmer ever had, and was a Gilmer policeman before that. He lived upstairs at the old fire station (now the Senior Citizens Center).
Moore’s father also was a policeman.
He said he has had the best opportunities life could have offered.
“Not many people get to follow their father and grandfather in their professions.