The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency now trains dogs to detect both humans and drugs as a measure to double up efforts at more than 300 ports of entry nationwide.
The dual-detector dogs now will sweep vehicles and rail cars for odors of illegal aliens and drugs from entering the country. Before this policy change, separate canines were used to detect humans and narcotics.
“We’re maintaining our traditional mission of narcotics detection, but we’re adding concealed humans,” said Lee Titus, director of the agency’s Canine Enforcement Program. “That’s where our main focus is. We’re strengthening the border, looking for potential terrorists while maintaining that traditional mission of narcotics interdiction.”
With four graduating classes of dual-detector dogs, the agency plans to add 50 additional teams by the end of the year, for a total of about 100 anti-terrorism teams. Each officer is assigned two dogs to train over a 13-week period and, at the end of the course, the officers and canine partners return to their home ports.
Customs and Border Protection allotted $1.9 billion this year to port protection and, in 2004, the agency reported more than 56,000 drug seizures, about 6,000 pounds a day, and 1.15 million illegal immigrants apprehended.
At the training facility in Front Royal, volunteers from the local community serve as decoys who hide in various locations within a vehicle to replicate a scenario at a port of entry for the dogs in training.
On a typical day, Randy Gerlach, a border patrol officer in Brownsville, Texas, sweeps more than 1,000 cars and conducts 20 to 30 intensive searches at the ports of entry with his canine partner. Mr. Gerlach whose former partner, Maddie, has retired, is retraining with his new canine partner, Kuvar.
“I’ve been training him [Kuvar] for about 2 months,” Mr. Gerlach said. “I have all the confidence in the world in the instructors and Customs with the program that we have, and the dogs are doing an excellent job on human detection.”
A two-week operation was set up at a port of entry in San Isidro, Calif., where six dual-detector dogs discovered 150 concealed illegal aliens attempting to enter the United States. So far, teams have been dispatched to various ports of entry nationwide, and Mr. Titus expects to train more than 350 teams within the next three years.
“We’re moving forward on Commissioner Bonner’s mission of anti-terrorism because he’s focused on national security. We’re taking man’s best friend and using him to find those potential terrorists as they come across the border,” Mr. Titus said.