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Tag: sniffing

“60 Minutes” on bomb-sniffing dogs

60 Minutes looked at bomb-sniffing dogs in a report that, especially given last night’s other featured stories — on the Marathon bombing and the 9/11 Memorial — brought home not just how many lives they’ve saved in the military overseas, but how many more they might save here.

Reporter Lara Logan focused on the dogs of war, and the trainers that describe their canines as nearly infallible when it comes to detecting bombs.

But they’re not so infallible when explosive devices are planted after the dogs have made their sweeps, as apparently was the case at the Boston Marathon.

“Would an average police dog have found these bombs at the Boston Marathon …?” she asked trainer Mike Ritland.

“…Based on what I do know, yes,” Ritland said. “If dogs went through the areas where they were placed– you know, your average, certified police bomb dog should have found them. My thoughts are if these guys (the suspects) are paying close attention to these dogs, they’re waiting. And when the dogs leave, they bring it in, they hand– they infiltrate, essentially, they drop it right where it’s busy, and very soon after, it detonates.”

As the “60 Minutes” piece pointed out, since 9/11 dogs have been used more than ever because nothing is more effective in finding hidden bombs. Dogs in the employ of the military and FBI have sniffed out bombs, captured enemies, and one assisted Navy SEAL Team 6 when it took down Osama bin Laden. Much more of what they do, given the often secretive nature of their work, never becomes known.

“The best of them serve with U.S. Special Operations and they’re in a league of their own,” Logan noted. “It’s nearly impossible to get anyone to talk about them publicly because much of what they do is classified, but we were able to talk to the people who train them for this story. We took the opportunity to ask about what might have happened in Boston while getting a rare glimpse inside the secretive world of America’s most elite dogs.”

(One member of the “60 Minutes” team — in a segment not shown on the air but featured on – even volunteered to be chased down by a military dog in training in Texas. Producer Reuben Heyman-Kantor, in the video above, tried to outrun the dog, but was brought down quickly.)

In her interview with former Navy SEAL Ritland, who now finds and trains dogs for Special Operations and top tier units in the FBI, Logan asked, ”What can these dogs do on the streets of America?”

“The very same thing that they do for our boys overseas in that they detect explosives– they are a fantastic deterrent– they use their nose to find, you know, people as well,” Ritland said.

“Everybody knows that dogs can smell better than humans but what they don’t realize is that if you and I walk into the kitchen and there’s a pot of beef stew on the counter, you and I smell beef stew. A dog smells potatoes, carrots, beef, onion, celery, gravy, flour. They smell each and every individual component of everything that’s in that beef stew. And they can separate everyone one of those. You can’t hide anything from them. It won’t work because you can’t fool a dog’s nose.”

Ritland now trains dogs on his 20-acre ranch in rural Cooper, Texas, runs the Warrior Dog Foundation for retired war dogs, and is the author of “Trident K9 Warriors: My Tale From the Training Ground to the Battlefield with Elite Navy SEAL Canines.”

Ritland says its important — amid these days of budget cuts — to remember what lifesavers the dogs can be, both in wars and at home.

In Afghanistan, according to the report, 42 dogs have been killed in action. They’ve become so effective that the enemy is singling them out. A Taliban commander told “60 Minutes” that on his last operation they were ordered to open fire on the American dogs first, and deal with the soldiers next.

Logan visited what she said was one of only three breeders in the U.S. who produce dogs — almost always the Belgian Malinois — for top tier military units.

She also interviewed Green Beret Chris Corbin who, along with his dog Ax, almost died on their final mission in Afghanistan.

Corbin said he missed a signal from the dog while searching for mines. Ax was alerting to Corbin’s foot, but Corbin realized it too late. He lost both his lower legs. Ax was not wounded. Both returned to duty.

Ax was at Corbin’s side during the interview, and rarely took his eyes off his former partner as he described their first reunion after the blast.

“I just said something simple. ‘Hey, where’s my boy at?’ and he stopped. He froze. He looked around. And he went into a panic until he found me and he jumped on my legs. Painful. Just– I was just happy to see him. I didn’t care how much it hurt.”

Police department bids farewell to Cheko

Police in Thomasville, North Carolina, paid their tribute to one of their canine partners Thursday – Cheko, a 9-year-old drug-sniffing dog who died after being poisoned.

About 150 people gathered for a memorial service at the Thomasville Funeral Home.

Police Chief Jeffrey Insley said before the service that an autopsy determined that Cheko — a drug-detecting dog who also was trained as a tracker — had been poisoned, according to the Winston-Salem Journal. He was one of four dogs in the K-9 unit.

Cheko died in March, just a week before he was scheduled to retire, at the Randolph County home of his handler, Thomasville Police Sgt. John Elgin. Elgin found Cheko dead inside his kennel, about two days after the dog started acting sluggish.

The Randolph County Sheriff’s Department is investigating how the dog ingested the poison. Elgin said additional tests will be conducted to determine what chemicals or poisons killed Cheko.

“It could have been an act of retaliation from a past arrest, but we are not going to point any fingers until we complete our investigation,” he said.

“Any new dog who takes Cheko’s place will have big paws to fill,” Insley said at the service.

Among those paying tribute to Cheko was  Thomasville Mayor Joe Bennett told the audience, Cheko had gone to heaven. “I doubt there are drugs there, but he is looking for something and having fun.”

Getting to (sniff, sniff) know you

Humans need a play stance.

I came to this conclusion yesterday — adding yet another item to the list of things dogs do better than us – as Ace and I arrived for the first time at the only dog park in Winston-Salem proper (and Winston-Salem is pretty proper).

Being new and mostly friendless in the town in which we’ve decided to temporarily base ourselves, we left our quarters in the basement of a mansion and, for a little socialization, headed a couple miles down the road to Washington Park, where dogs can run and play in a fenced-in area.

Of course, Ace hardly romped at all. It being a new scene for him, his first priority was to give all things a good sniffing  – other dogs included. But, on this day, he was more the sniffee than the sniffer.

The second I closed the gate behind us, five other dogs — realizing there was a new face — bounded over for a whiff, following so close behind his rear end that, when he stopped abruptly … well you know the rest.

Butts aside, it’s an intriguing thing to watch, this seeming welcome, and one I noticed often back at Ace’s old park in Baltimore. When a first-timer arrives, all the other dogs come over to give the new guy a sniff. To view that as an act of kindness is, of course, anthropomorphic. But still it’s kind of sweet.

This weekend, Ace — though he was used to being the dean of his old park — was the new kid on the block.

He courteously sniffed those who sniffed him, but was more interested in checking out the space, the water bowl and the humans than in playing with the other dogs. We’d been there a full hour before he even chased another dog — all of whom were playing energetically with each other.

Dee Dee, a beagle, and Bailey, a whippet mix, (both pictured atop this post) had great play stances and used them often: Butts pointed skyward, front legs stretched all the way out, heads lowered. It, in the canine world, is a universal signal, a way of saying “You don’t need to be afraid of me, this is all in good fun, it’s playtime, let’s go.”

I can think of no counterpart when it comes to human body language — no gesture or stance we have that is as easily noticeable and understood. The handshake? No, that’s just standard procedure, basic manners. Perhaps the one that came closest was the peace sign.

Rather than having a universal play stance, we resort to words, which often only make things more confusing. We try to make sense of subtle body language and interpret what we think are queues, neither of which we’re that good at, either.

All that could be resolved if we only had a human play stance — a position we could place our bodies in that signifies we’re open to getting to know a fellow human.

We’ve got the war stance down. We all know the fighting stance, or at least enough to put our dukes up. But there’s no simple gesture or motion we humans can make — at least not without possibility of criminal charges or restraining orders – that sends a signal that peace, harmony and fun are ahead.

We can’t, without repercussions, do the butt-sniffing thing. We can’t, of course, go around peeing on each other’s pee.

But why can’t we come up with a play stance — one that says I’m open to getting to know you better, and perhaps even frolicking a bit?

Because that would be too easy for a species as complex as ours? Too honest? Too direct?

It was easier when we were children. A simple ”Wanna play?” sufficed. Somehow, on the way to becoming adults, we started opting instead for far less direct, far stupider comments, like “Do you come here often?” and “What’s your sign?”

Adopting a play stance for the human race, at this point – with all that we have evolved, with how sophisticated and suspicious and manipulative we as a society have become — would be difficult. It might be too late.

Two thumbs up and a grin? Standing with arms outstretched, knees bent, while waving people toward you? Most anything I can come up to signal you are accepting new people into your life would have the exact opposite effect, and send them running.

In the final analysis, being human, maybe we’re stuck with words, and small talk, and being less straightforward, sincere and, quite likely, pure of heart and motive than dogs.

Ace will make friends his way, and I will make friends mine (which is most often with his help). But between him and my conversational skills, I’ll be fine. And by the way, do you come here often?

(Story and photos by John Woestendiek)

Dogs can detect prostate cancer, study says

A French study says dogs can sniff out signs of prostate cancer in human urine — a finding that could lead to better cancing-sensing technology, according to its lead author.

While some scientists have questioned similar reports of dogs with such diagnostic powers in recent years, French researcher Jean-Nicolas Cornu, who works at Hospital Tenon in Paris, said, “The dogs are certainly recognizing the odor of a molecule that is produced by cancer cells.”

Researchers don’t know what that molecule is,  according to U.S. News & World Report, but the study’s findings could prove useful in the detection of cancer, which often goes undetected until it is too late to treat.

Urine tests can turn up signs of prostate cancer, Cornu said, but miss some cases.

In the study, two researchers spent a year training a Belgian Malinois, a breed already used to detect drugs and bombs.

The dog was trained to differentiate between urine samples from men with prostate cancer and men without. Ultimately, researchers placed groups of five urine samples in front of the dog to see if it could identify the sole sample from a man with prostate cancer. The dog correctly classified 63 out of 66 specimens.

If the findings hold up in other studies, they’ll be “pretty impressive,” said urologist Dr. Anthony Y. Smith, who was to moderate a discussion on the findings Tuesday at the American Urological Association annual meeting in San Francisco.

Students’ hard work foiled by thief

Students at Woodlands High School in Conroe, Texas raised $9,000 to help purchase a land-mine sniffing dog — only to see the money snatched by a thief.

Teacher Susan Hollier  said about 2,000 people from across the community attended a Woodlands High School walk and fundraising festival on Saturday.

Two student clubs — Interact and the Council on International Affairs — started working on the project in February, with hopes of raising $20,000 to pay for the purchase and training of a Belgian Malinois. The dogs are sent around the world to detect mines so communities in such places as Afghanistan, Iraq and Vietnam can use the land again.

Part of the money raised was also going to pay for a Woodlands High student to travel to Bosnia to see the dogs in action. The clubs’ project dog was going to visit the high school in May.

Around noon Saturday, though, a suspect grabbed a box of donated money from a student and ran, according to the Houston Chronicle. Hollier said all but $253 was stolen.

“It’s really just heartbreaking, especially when this one dog would save up to 10,000 lives in its five to seven years of service,” said Shelby Howard, 18, president of Interact. “It’s really hard to see all our hard work just taken from us in a matter of seconds. It’s hard to believe someone would go to that level.”

What are the clubs going to do about it? Start all over again, Shelby said. “We’re definitely not going to just let it go. This is a worthy cause.”

Was this dog ready to protect our shores?


The Virginian-Pilot this week sniffed out a doozy of a story — about how 49 dogs supposedly trained in bomb detection for the Navy by a private security contractor failed to pass muster and were returned to the contractor, only to apparently languish in the months that followed.

The Navy originally picked up the dogs last spring from Securitas Security Services USA,  a private security contractor in Chicago. But once the dogs arrived at Naval bases, not a one was able to find planted explosives during military certification tests, according to the Navy.

The Navy sent the dogs back to the contractor, then later decided to end the contract with Securitas, buying the 49 dogs and training them on its own.

When the Navy went to retrieve to dogs on Oct. 5, according to Navy emails obtained by the newspaper, the dogs were dirty, weak and so thin that their ribs and hip bones jutted out.

In the emails, a civilian official describes the dogs’ condition as  “deplorable” and says he feared the dogs would have died if the military hadn’t come to get them.

In fact, the Navy said later, at least two of the dogs didn’t survive, and several others were deemed too sick to be of use, the newspaper reported. Nearly a year after they were supposed to have begun working, the remaining K-9s still are not patrolling Navy installations as intended.

It was the first time the Navy had procured dogs trained by an outside contractor. In the past, it trained its own dogs to help protect its bases and ships.

Securitas disputes that the dogs were poorly trained and neglected, and says that the Navy still owes it money — more than $6 million for its services and for the animals. Jim McNulty, an executive vice president, said the dogs were healthy and well-fed when the Navy picked them up a second time. He disputed that they were kept in a warehouse. “They were in excellent shape,” he said.

Securitas bought the dogs for about $465,000  from Vohne Liche Kennels, an Indiana-based business that offers work-ready police dogs as well as training courses for handlers.

When the Navy canceled the contract, it paid $800,000 to Securitas for the dogs, according to Securitas.

The state of Illinois has launched an investigation into the dogs’ treatment.

The Navy’s shift to privately trained explosives-detection dogs came as part of a decision in 2008 to outsource a number of base security services. In January 2009, Lockheed announced it had signed a $350 million, five-year contract with the military, part of which called for Lockheed to provide explosives-detection dogs to supplement the Navy’s own K-9 forces and free up more Navy dogs to deploy overseas.

Soon after it signed the agreement, Lockheed subcontracted the K-9 portion to Securitas.  Securitas began offering K-9 services about seven years ago.

In a written statement, the Navy said it expects 39 of the original 49 dogs to eventually patrol installations as intended. Several are now being cared for and trained at bases in the Hampton Roads area. 

(US NAVY photo)

Philadelphia airport dogs not up to snuff

All three bomb-sniffing dogs handled by the Transportation Security Administration at Philadelphia International Airport have lost their certification after having failed their last two tests.

And Fox News reports the problems may extend beyond that: Sources say about a dozen of the 700 TSA dogs at 85 airports have failed the tests as well.

A TSA spokesman said the three dogs in Philadelphia — after failing standard tests in November and December — are continuing intensive training to regain their certification, and are continuing to work at the airport as a “visual deterrent.” 

The dogs, trained in at Lackland Air Force base in Texas, completed the 10-week course all TSA dogs must successfully pass.

Ten other city police dogs assigned to Philadelphia’s airport passed the tests.

The TSA spokesman said the agency is working quickly to recertify the bomb sniffing dogs and assured the traveling public that security would not suffer.