A Tale of Two Working Dogs

Cherie O’Boyle here, and thank you for visiting my first post as a regular at Pens. Paws & Claws! As mentioned in my bio, my latest novel features search and rescue dogs working to locate a kidnapped toddler. Every day, it seems, we hear another story about how working dogs are using their special skills to help humans, and I look forward to writing more of their stories.

The following is a true story, really two stories about two working dogs.

Explosives Detection

At the end of an exhausting transAtlantic flight from Budapest, my friend and I gathered our things to deplane at Los Angeles International Airport. The flight attendants seemed unusually anxious for us to move along. They even opened previously unseen hallways in the huge aircraft, and we were rushed to exit through the first class cabin. I have never seen an airplane cleared out as fast as that one.

Once inside the terminal, a Transportation Safety Administration officer waved us to hurry up the escalator. What was the big rush? Baggage was already dumping onto the carousel by the time we got there, and TSA officers were helping passengers identify and claim their bags. When has that ever happened?

Something warm bumped the back of my leg as we waited, and I turned to see a basset hound in a TSA vest crawling over luggage, sniffing madly. At the other end of the leash, another TSA officer briskly encouraged her partner to “search.” It all happened so fast, we passengers hardly had time to react.

It was not until I got home and saw the evening news that I learned a credible bomb scare had threatened to blow up a plane upon landing at LAX that day. Thank goodness we had no idea at the time, and thank goodness a bomb-sniffing dog was on the job!

Are you surprised that a basset hound would be employed for bomb-detection? Every day we work with dogs, we learn about something new and helpful they can do. We’ve learned, for example, that all dogs, regardless of breed, have powerful abilities to discriminate scents, so all breeds and even mixed breeds can be trained in scent detection. 

We’ve also learned that in any situation where the dogs might have extensive contact with the public, it’s better to hire dogs with floppy ears. Floppy eared dogs are more likely to be perceived as friendly, while those with pointy ears are perceived as scary. If you’ve ever wondered why naturally floppy-eared doberman pinscher puppies have their ears cut off and taped upright, there’s your answer.

Customs and Border Protection Dogs

I said this would be a tale about two working dogs, so here’s the second half. Same trip, same friend, still at LAX.

Having claimed our bags, we dragged them down a long wide hallway to Customs. Coming toward us was a sweet beagle with a uniformed human at the other end of the leash, who I hardly noticed. After three weeks, I really missed my own dogs, and this beagle looked so friendly. Just ahead of me, the dog made a quick u-turn and took a sudden interest in my friend. My only thought was, isn’t that darling, the dog likes her. Then the Customs officer took my friend’s elbow and said, “You’ll have to come with me, ma’am.” As he hauled her away she protested, “It’s okay! It’s wrapped in plastic!”

As it turned out, the dog had scented a mystery meat sandwich she had been carrying since three in the morning when we left Budapest. Why the fact that it was wrapped in plastic was relevant was an even bigger mystery to me. My friend was also carrying an apple. She had not declared either item on her Customs form. The obvious conclusion from this story is, don’t try to slip anything past a sniffer dog, not even an apple, because those dogs are not fooling around!

How about you, have you ever encountered working dogs on the job? Do your dogs or cats do more for you than provide fuzzy hugs and comic relief (and those are no small contributions, for sure!) I’d love to hear from you! 

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7 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Working Dogs”

  1. As we left baggage area arriving in Mexico City airport, a couple of dogs were sniffing bags. Lots of interest in my husband’s bag. Bingo! A forgotten Mandarin orange and some homemade dog cookies. (My husband took a couple of my peanut butter dog cookies as a sugarless snack—he really likes them!) That dog wanted that stuff—jumped on his handler, who had taken the orange. Denny asked the handlers’ permission, then he gave both of the dogs the uneaten dog cookies. What a payoff for a working dog! And we enjoyed watching them enjoying the cookies.

    1. That is hysterical, Jonel! Not much for the handler to brag about when their highly-trained scent dog alerts to dog biscuits! I have read that even explosive detection dogs are equally likely to alert to food items as to explosives, which is why that scene in “On Scent” came to be included.

  2. My mom got nabbed by a beagle for having an apple. We tried to eat all the fresh fruit on the plane but the apple snuck into my mom’s pocket when she wasn’t looking.
    We have had cadaver dogs, drug dogs and explosive dogs at our Sisters in Crime meeting over the years. One of them sniffed its way around the group and sat down in front of me. The handlers looked very embarrassed. I had fed the sheep that morning before coming to the meeting and forgotten to change my shoes.

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