Man’s Best Partner
Canine teams are a core element of explosives detection. Since Sept. 11, there has been an increased demand for this kind of detection, and proposed legislation would ensure the best care and training of the dogs used in these dangerous situations.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced the Canine Detection Improvement Act of 2007 in January. The act aims to “improve the programs of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) relating to trained detection canines.” It addresses the need for improved and coordinated training and encourages the use of domestic dogs.
It was referred to the Committee on Homeland Security by Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala.; Rep. Chris Carney, D-Pa.; Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, D-Miss.; and Rep. Peter T. King, R-N.Y.
Though yet to be passed, the bill has drawn attention over the last six months because of the importance of explosive detection. Thompson, who is chairman of the committee, says that the nation’s safety is a motive of the act. “Canine Detection Teams are critical to keeping America safe. This legislation is an important first step to ensuring that the supply of trained dogs will meet the nation’s demand,” Thompson stated in a press release.
One proposal would boost coordination and enhancement of training of the canine detection team, which consists of a canine and a canine handler, including research and development of new canine training methods and measurements for efficiency and effectiveness. It also would ensure that DHS is maximizing its use of existing training facilities and resources to train canines throughout the year.
Canine procurement provisions would prioritize raising the number of domestically bred canines used by the department. The dogs would assist in counterterrorism and protection of ports of entry and along the border. Domestically bred canines from universities and private and nonprofit sources in the United States would also be used.
The act has been a part of an attempt to establish a Domestic Canine Breeding Grant Program. Focusing on domestic breeders of canines, the program would increase canine numbers through both public and private means. Its purpose is to encourage the development and growth of targeted programs best suited for breeding canines for detection purposes within the United States. “This [program] should help increase the use of domestically-bred dogs and support the work of canine breeding programs,” Rep. Rogers stated in a press release. “Currently, the vast majority of these dogs are purchased in Europe, but by increasing domestic breeding, we lower the costs of acquiring these dogs and ensure there are a sufficient number available for U.S. detection team training.”
A developing accreditation board would also ensure proper certification standards and prevent fraud and abuse by implementing a process to certify compliance. Membership of the board would consist of experts in the fields of canine training and explosives detection from federal and state agencies, universities, other research institutions and organizations in the private sector. It would also implement a voluntary accreditation process to certify that those conducting the team certification appropriately meet the national voluntary consensus standards for canines and their handlers.
The Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) Puppy Program might benefit from the bill as well. The program, located at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, selectively breeds, raises and prepares puppies to be explosives-detection dogs in the National Explosives Detection Canine Team Program. The dogs that graduate from training are assigned to 74 airports and 13 mass transit systems. There are currently more than 440 canine detection teams in the Puppy Program.
Although he declined to comment on the bill because it is not yet passed, TSA spokesperson Greg Soule explains how essential canine detection teams are to Homeland security. “Canines are a very important and valuable element of TSA’s multi-layered approach for explosive security. They are the quickest, most efficient means of detecting explosives. In addition, they are a valuable visual deterrent to would-be terrorists, and that blends well with our other layers of security,” he says.