VIDEO: U.S. Fish & Wildlife's K-9 Detectors
Just as detector dogs can be trained to locate narcotics or bomb-making materials, they can also be trained to find exotic animals smuggled through U.S. airports.
With this in mind, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has launched a K-9 program to assist federal inspectors in the battle to combat trafficking of live animals and animal products.
Earlier this summer, the service trained four dogs—mostly Labrador retriever mixes named Butter, Lancer, Locket, and Viper—to roll out at high-volume cargo airports in Chicago, Los Angeles, Louisville, and Miami.
The agency, a division of the Department of the Interior, obtained the dogs from shelters, breeders and private owners. They should work for at least five years.
The first detector dog, Locket, began working at Los Angeles International Airport with her handler, Ray Hernandez. Locket has proven herself in training scenarios, Hernandez said.
"They see the world through their nose," Hernandez said. "Each item has its own chemical signature."
The detector dogs have been trained to sniff out elephant ivory, rhino horn, and several other scents.
Fish and Wildlife Service inspectors, including the K-9 handlers, don't have arrest powers or carry a duty pistol. They report to a Regional Agent in Charge who oversees field offices as a fully sworn federal agent.
The detector dogs should help increase inspection capabilities; they can sniff thousands of packages on an airport conveyor belt in the time it takes a human inspector to examine a hundred packages. And federal budget cuts have halted hiring of inspectors.
The agency spent about $90,000 for the initial training of the dogs and a 13-week program for the handlers. The cost for the program will be more than covered by asset forfeiture funds seized from smugglers, says Mike Osborn, a supervisory inspector in Los Angeles.
Editor's note: This special unit profile is the latest in a series of Web-exclusive career profiles on PoliceMag.com. Read more profiles here. Photos and video by Kareem Girgis.