At ports and borders throughout the United States, specially trained dogs are using their powerful sense of smell to sniff out lethal chemicals that terrorists may attempt to smuggle into the country.
"We wanted to see how we could utilize the dogs to protect America," said Lee Titus, director of the Canine Enforcement Program for Customs and Border Protection (CBP). "So we developed a curriculum and program to have our dogs detect certain chemicals that could be used in weapons for mass destruction."
Late last January, several chemical-detection canines began work in the field alongside their handlers. For national security reasons, Titus said, the exact number of dogs, and the locations where they are being used, could not be revealed.
The highly trained Belgian malinoises, German shepherds, and Labrador retrievers, are the first detection dogs of their kind and went through several weeks of training at CBP's Canine Enforcement Training Center in Virginia, which is touted as the Ivy League of detector-dog schools.
At the center, these four-footed agents are taught to sniff out specific, non-lethal components of a chemical. When an odor is discovered, such as sarin or cyanide, the canine alerts the human handler, goes to the source and sits. The dog's job is then done, said Titus, and a hazardous material team is called in.
The agency also uses dogs to detect narcotics, explosives, and currency.
The CBP's training center has been on the cutting edge of developing new detector-dog capabilities for enforcement and security missions at the more than 300 ports and land border entry points into the United States. More than 100 canine teams are trained each year at the facility.
The CBP first used detector dogs in 1970 in an effort to stop drugs from being smuggled into the country.
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