Finding the Bullet
(The loss of Aliíi at 9/11)
by Capt. Jim McGee
Our guys don't do anything just to please, we have to employ all kinds of ways to make training both interesting and fun. We have 4 basic tools for training, A light cord type harness, a work harness, a tennis ball and a "tug" which is a short canvas hose filled with stuffing and an attached rope that we use for tug of war. The ball and tug are rewards, and the cord harness is for corrections. We never use food, choke, spike or electric collars, or clickers.
The one big advantage we have with training our dogs over the others that come to us for just a little while is that we are there from the beginning. We are the pack, and what we do is what they know as pack behavior.
I have been around Siberians all my life. We grew up with them at home, and my sister and I spent our summers with my aunt and her wonderful wolf dogs and wolves. All are extremely intelligent. A command has to make sense to them. This is a very valuable trait when you rely on a dog for survival. For over 3 thousand years this was bred into them, and it is just this trait that is so often misconstrued for obstinacy.
When asked about this, it reminded me of a quote I had heard years ago. When a musher was asked why he didn't use a more obedient breed like a Lab, his reply was "You tell a Lab to turn left, he will. A Husky will wait for the break in the trees".
I brought back many of our training techniques from Vietnam. It was there that I really learned what a dog was capable of, and how deep the bond can be between the two. I have incorporated much of what I learned there into my training program, modified it a bit and expanded, but basically very similar.
We are on call with several different entities, both Federal and local. All my dogs are FEMA certified type 1 or 2, so we go on Federal deployments when called. We are also under contract with both the State of FL and Lee County Port Authorities, for airports and seaports. County Sheriff Depts. around the state also have us on their lists, usually for missing persons or fugitive searches.
We are ATF certified for both explosives and HAZ MAT. If we are called for deployment by Govt. They will supply transportation, (most of the time). When we go on our own, we travel in our own vehicles; built for the dogs Katrina was different. We went with a contingent of police and Fire Dept SAR Dogs, with a lot of equipment and supplies, all volunteer.
As it was for so many, 9/11 was a turning point for us. In our early years about 80% of our work was search and rescue. After Oklahoma City in 1995, that changed to about half. In the years since WTC we have come full circle, to 80% interdiction. We were called as part of the FEMA US&R network. and were on the ground in NY 3 1/2 hours after the 2cnd tower fell. All commercial flights had been grounded, we went by C-130 military transport from Sarasota. Two of our handlers and I took four of the team, all specialized in different disciplines.
Ali'i was trained as a mine and tunnel dog / firewalker, meaning he went into hot underground environments. Many people don't realize that several more buildings came down in the days following the collapse of the towers.
On Sept. 13th, Ali'i was working the maze of sewer and ventilation tunnels under the complex, trying to find a way into the subway system under the towers. He was wearing a video camera pack and V/A (voice activated) radio and we were watching his progress on a monitor. The radio was so we could hear if he gave an alert, but also so I could give a "return command" if it looked too bad in there.
Without warning building 6, which had been burning for two days, collapsed into its foundation. He was right under it, and was killed instantly. Noka, his mate, was standing beside me and knew right then that he was gone. She let out one long howl that went all through the complex.
When a fireman or an officer's body was recovered, the machinery would stop, and all would fall silent. When Noka gave that howl, all the machinery came to a stop, just like when a victim was recovered.
One other dog was lost there, and several severely hurt. The resident bomb dog for the Center, "Sirius" was lost on the first day. His handler had put him into his kennel in the basement of Tower One when the first plane hit to keep him safe while he went to investigate. He was there when the Tower came down. Three weeks later his body was recovered, and he was given a wonderful memorial.
Ali'i was never found. We have often struggled with the question of what we do and its consequences. We have lost two dogs in service over the years and had many serious injuries also. We ask our dogs to go into harmís way and they do.
We have even been criticized for it. I have never believed that it is only training that motivates them. They truly love what they do and are intelligent enough to assess risk, and make decisions. In fact we rely on it. I do know that we have been blessed to be able to share our lives with these very special and remarkable animals.
by Capt. Jim McGee
Last night was one of those times. We are under contract with the Port Authority for nitrate interdiction for the 3 local airports here in Volusia County. Last night we had the 2AM to 2PM shift at Daytona International. Despite the name, it's a fairly small facility but is busy at this time of year. At about 3 this morning Lono, Kido and I were checking the luggage being loaded onto one of the outbound aircraft. The dogs were working off - lead on the conveyor belt that was loading the cart for the plane. A flight had just arrived from Atlanta, and the walkway where passengers disembark comes right down about 40 feet or so from where we were working.As the passengers started to go by, Kido pops his head up, and after a second or two trots over to the railing where the people are walking. He then hops the rail and trots up to this young couple, in their mid-30's or so, and sits directly in front of the man. Well This is his "alert", so I reached over and stopped the conveyor, and Lono and I started over to where they were.
The man stepped around the dog and got about 3 steps when Kido once again blocked his path and sat. I signaled for the 2 security deputies, told them the dog was alerting on a passenger, and as I was climbing over the rail myself, Lono had reached the couple and also came to alert. As the man tried to step around them for the third time, I gave a double hand clap which is their signal to "contain" and the dogs separated the man from the woman and herded him against the rail.
My guys are totally silent while working, they don't growl or bark, but Kido is 168 lbs and his brother although 30 lbs lighter is still a big boy. Their silence is very spooky in situations like this and I've always thought it more effective than a display of aggression. I think the fellow agreed because he froze against the rail until the deputies got over to him. After a couple questions, they "wanded" him and...Nothing. The dogs were indicating a front pocket however so he was asked to empty his pockets. Sure enough, a SINGLE 38 cartridge was in a suit coat pocket.
It turns out this man was an off duty police officer who was returning home from vacation with his wife. He stated (and I believe him) that he had no idea that that cartridge was there. He further stated that he had worn that sport coat going and coming and had passed through a total of 4 security checkpoints that included metal detectors, sniffers and X ray. I have no idea how many parts per million a scent from a single cartridge gives off from inside a pocket at 40 feet, but I bet it's small. This is why when they REALLY need to know, they don't count on machines, they call in DOGS!!
These are two brothers of the next generation. They will be big boys when they are fully grown.