The Los Angeles Airport has one of the largest canine units in the United States. Members of American Legion Post 283, who held an April meeting at the Flight Path Museum at LAX, met Officer Nori, a German short-hair pointer and her handler Officer Gonzalez.
Canines, when not working, live with their handlers. Nori is 11 years old.
“Maybe she’ll work one more year, and then retire and I’ll get to keep her,” Gonzalez said, noting that the dogs receive free food and medical care.
“I worked with a German Shepherd, who retired when it was 13 and it lived with me another three years,” said Officer Gardea, who was also at the presentation.
Dogs are trained to find between 16 to 18 different kinds of explosives. The two officers had arranged a demonstration in which three backpacks would be placed on the ground, one containing black powder “explosives,” but Nori cut the demonstration short. The dog ran up to the backpack that had been placed to the side, sat and didn’t move. That was the signal there was explosives.
When a dog finds a contraband, it is rewarded with a toy, not food. Gonzalez said the airport is filled with food odors, which makes it difficult to offer that as a reward. Nori was given a green tennis ball, attached to a cord, which the dog promptly played with.
Officers were asked if anyone every tried to kick or abuse the animal. “That would be assault, because the dog is considered an officer,” Gardea said. “That person would be charged, just as if he had assaulted a person.”
The handlers were asked if the dogs sniff out drugs. No, because marijuana is now legal in California and people do fly with it all over the country.
The Canine Unit was created in 2001, in response to September 11. The unit allows police to search and find explosive materials and rapidly respond to potential threats.
The dogs are used if there is an unattended bag, and Cardea said that they can even sniff out the nitroglycerin that is used in heart medications. It is also used in bombs.
The Canine Unit also conducts random and directed searches of cargo facilities, terminals, U.S. mail, aircraft and baggage handling areas.
Gonzalez said that people love to pet Nori, and canines, such as Nori seem to like the attention.
Dogs are trained at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. The 25,000 square foot facility has kennels for about 350 dogs.
About 325 dogs complete training each year and there are about 160 in training at any given time. The graduation rate for the canines is about 83 percent.
There are seven breeds trained: German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, German Short-haired Pointers, Wirehaired Pointers, Vizslas, Belgian Malinois and Golden Retrievers. It costs about $46,000 for the training (for canine and handler).
Nori was taken out of the room and then three backpacks were strewn on the floor. The dog came in and sniffed the first two, before it found “explosives” in the third. Sat. And was rewarded with a ball.