Man’s best friend is an enemy of terrorism – bomb-sniffing dogs

The employment situation looks downright rosy in some quarters for the foreseeable future–at least that’s if you happen to be a dog, particularly a German or Belgian shepherd, or a Chesapeake Bay, golden or Labrador retriever or some other sporting breed. Those are the ones best-suited for bomb detection. As 2002 came to a close, the Transportation Security Administration was rushing bomb-sniffing dogs to major airports facing shutdown because they were unable to meet the Dec. 31 deadline for screening all baggage. The government dogs receive 11 weeks of training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas before being assigned to a handler. Congress authorized spending $6 million on the program after the Sept. 11,2001, terrorist attacks. Federal officials expect to have bomb-sniffing dogs on duty at 83 airports in the United States by the end of the new year. That means employment for more than 300 dogs.
Airport duty is just one area where the dogs are in demand. Police departments nationwide are acquiring them to assist when there’s a bomb threat or suspicious package. Industry, business and institutions such as museums also are looking for a few good dogs. The good ones don’t come cheap: One of the best private trainers sells his dogs for $10,000. Candidates for his training program, Labradors for instance, cost $800 to $2,500 when purchased from a breeder.

Recently in the Philippines, a furor erupted around estimates that purchasing and training bomb-sniffing dogs would cost $83,000 each. Estimates were revised substantially after lawmakers had a field day blasting the project. One factor in the estimate was that local dogs had failed to perform, so officials were looking to acquire some top-of-the-line pooches, such as German shepherds bred in elite European kennels.

The California Highway Patrol (CHP) could offer a little advice to those who are paying high prices for dogs. Officers have saved a dozen dogs in animal-rescue shelters and enrolled them in bomb-sniffer training programs. The CHP has had a similar program in place for years to recruit drug-sniffing dogs. Also in California, a private group has organized “Pups for Peace,” a program that hopes to send 1,000 trained bomb-sniffing dogs to Israel. Dogs in that program are purchased, donated or rescued from shelters.

While breeders and trainers see a great future for dogs in bomb detection, researchers are working to replace them with a high-tech gadget. Bomb-detection devices at present are expensive and cumbersome, but it probably is only a matter of time before some wizard comes up with a cheap, hand-held device.
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