Ever have a co-worker who slobbered all over the place and was always poking their nose into things? Well I have. No, I’m not talking about my fellow accountants. (Thank goodness!) I’m talking about the airport K9s. My airport has several of them and they’re awesome.
Awww – Doggies!
Currently on staff we have three German Shepherds, two German Shorthaired Pointers and one Belgian Malinois. Four of them are trained for explosive detection and the other two handle narcotic detection. Two of them are new and just joined the airport police this year. These breeds are fairly common in law enforcement because they are intelligent, strong and have a very good sense of smell. Other popular breeds include Labrador Retrievers and Beagles. (The airport used to have a Lab but he retired a few years ago.)
Work Hard, Play Hard
As you might expect K9s go through A LOT of training before they start working. In addition to learning to detect specific substances, they are also taught obedience and to be comfortable in busy, crowded, noisy environments. Once matched with a handler the two go through roughly ten weeks of training together. Then the dogs spend another 30 days becoming acclimated to the airport. During this time they are exposed to all the areas where they will be working, including baggage handling areas and cargo buildings. Once that is completed the K9s and their handlers go through final certification and then they are ready to work. And by “work” what I actually mean is play. For a K9 work is fun. If they aren’t having fun then they won’t work as hard, so handlers make sure that every day at work is exciting and interesting for their canine partners.
Well… I guess you wouldn’t exactly call them pampered, but K9s are a huge investment and a huge asset for the airport, so we want to take good care of them. Since they burn a lot of calories every day, they get special food to make sure they get the right nutrition. They get regular visits to the vet for everything from routine vaccinations to grooming and nail clipping. We also make sure they have good quality toys to play with. (K9s love their Kong toys as much as any dog!) Even their transportation is special – they ride in SUVs which have K9 inserts with window guards, door panels and even heat sensors to make sure they stay safe when they travel.
K9s in the Crowd
These days K9s are becoming more and more valuable for their ability to detect explosive materials in crowds of people. Over the last few months I have participated in several big events at the airport which have been attended by city and state officials. The K9s were there as well, mingling with the crowd and keeping their eyes… well, OK, their NOSES on the event. I also see them in and around security lines.
The Nose Knows
How sensitive is the K9 nose? I recently read about an incident at an airport in which a K9 detected an explosive substance in a briefcase. When the briefcase was opened they discovered a business card that had belonged to someone who worked with fertilizers and other hazardous substances. The K9 was able to smell those substances on the card INSIDE the briefcase – their noses are THAT sensitive! Last weekend a K9 working in a cargo facility at my airport detected an explosive substance. The facility was evacuated and the bomb squad was brought in. It turned out to be a similar situation – the K9 had hit on very small traces of potentially explosive elements that at some point had come into contact with non-hazardous cargo. Even though there was no threat this time, I feel safer knowing that super-sensitive K9 noses are on the job!
Although it’s not an official part of their responsibilities, in many ways the K9s also serve as good-will ambassadors. There’s just something about seeing dogs at work that never fails to make me smile. Even though their role at the airport is an incredibly important and serious one, they make the place seem a bit more friendly somehow. And I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that way. As I was leaving work the other day I saw a female passenger sitting in one of the pre-security waiting areas. Normally passengers look bored or maybe a little anxious, but she caught my attention because she had the biggest smile on her face. Then I saw what she was looking at – one of the K9s was nearby. Awww – who’s a good doggie!