Federal agencies are having trouble finding enough trainable canines to meet the growing demand for bomb- and drug-sniffing dogs, so they're breeding their own.
Heightened security measures following the Sept. 11 attacks have increased the need for bomb-sniffing dogs across the country. More dogs will be needed this week as the FAA begins screening checked baggage for explosives.
The FAA plans to open a breeding center this month at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, using five purebred Labrador retrievers. The Defense Department is to begin breeding a few German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois this spring at Lackland for drug and bomb detection.
The FAA has 175 dog-trainer teams at 39 airports, but wants to add 90 this year to meet new levels of need. By the end of 2003, the FAA hopes to have 358 teams in 112 airports, according to FAA spokeswoman Rebecca Trexler.
Federal dog programs use all kinds of breeds. Because of their innate hunting skills and amenability to training, German shepherds and retrievers are the most commonly used. For breeding, the FAA and Customs prefer Australian-born Labradors.
Despite the new emphasis on breeding dogs for government jobs, most dogs will still come from animal shelters and private institutions. Customs, for example, gets 150 dogs from those locations each year, and about 15 from breeding.