Canines’ Contributions to Homeland Security Missions Documented

By Stew Magnuson

As the Department of Homeland Security spends billions on high-technology solutions to secure the border, it’s easy to overlook the humble working dog.

A recent Department of Homeland Security Inspector General’s report gave insight into the esoteric world of canine procurement, and highlighted the animal’s contribution to homeland security.

House Homeland Security Committee Rep. Chairman Bennie G. Thompson. D-Miss., requested the report to find out whether Customs and Border Protection was overpaying for untrained canines. That prompted inspectors to fan out to airports, border crossings and the CBP’s two training facilities to investigate the role of canine teams. Their conclusion: CBP, when compared to the Defense Department and other agencies, was paying a competitive price. The $4,535 per canine cost was fair even though the vendors were in Europe and the dollar exchange rate has been unfavorable.

The byproduct of their in-depth investigation was a 28-page report highlighting the importance of dogs in securing the homeland.

CBP bought 322 untrained dogs from April 2006 to June 2007. The new dogs cost taxpayers $1.46 million, but their contributions are nothing to sniff at. About 4 percent of the Border Patrol’s 14,000 agents are canine handlers, but they accounted for 60 percent of narcotics busts in fiscal year 2007 and 40 percent of “all other apprehensions.”

These other apprehensions include dogs that specialize in finding explosives, humans being smuggled through borders, agricultural contraband and undeclared currency.

A dog sniffing a vehicle for explosives, for example, can clear it in “seconds,” the report noted. An officer without a dog would take at least 20 minutes to perform the same task. Border Patrol agents routinely find abandoned drugs by the side of the roads after would-be smugglers spot dogs ahead at checkpoints.

The many kinds of contraband coming through borders require that the CBP run the “largest and most diverse law enforcement canine program in the country,” the report said.

DHS’ office of science and technology, and other federal agencies that use dogs, have conducted research into whether technology can replace the olfactory prowess of canines. Dogs become tired, researchers note. A sensor that can sniff the air for 24 hours nonstop would be far superior.

Perhaps, but nothing so far has been able to top the dog’s nose, and its effectiveness.

Topics: Homeland Security, Border Security

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