Trained for terrorism, K9 dogs “married” to trainers

Trained for terrorism, K9 dogs “married” to trainers

For dogs trained to help combat terrorist attacks, the bond with their trainers is similar to a marriage, said TSA K9 trainer Donald “Bubba” Deason.

“When you are working with a dog you are working with an individual that can’t communicate with you. They know only what you teach them,” said Deason. “Your dog reads your behavior and you read their behavior. They detect your feelings. It goes up leash or down leash,” he said.

Deason and his black Labrador retriever, Balu, were one of two highly trained K9 teams that gave a special bomb-sniffing demonstration at the Kings Avenue Skyway Station Nov. 12.

Canine_01The demonstration came about when the Jacksonville Transportation Authority partnered with the Transportation Security Administration to give media outlets an inside look at an enhanced security program with TSA’s Multi-Modal Explosive Detection K9 teams. The mission of the K9 teams is to conduct explosive screening in various transportation environments and to identify and mitigate potential criminal activity or terrorist threats.

Overseeing the demonstration were Colin Mulloy, Safety and Security Manager with JTA and Sari Koshetz, Public Affairs Coordinator with TSA.

Deason was joined by handler Tom Pomeroy and his yellow Labrador retriever, Bobby. The demonstration, which took place aboard both a Skyway train and a bus, showed how, through their exceptional sense of smell, the dogs could recognize a black canvas bag filled with explosive components when it was left on the floor of Skyway car and bus. Once the dog smelled the bag, it has been trained to sit quietly at the point of discovery and face its handler. After identifying the bag, the dog is given a toy to play with as a reward.

Canine_05TSA K9 team dogs are trained at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas before being matched up with their handlers.

Deason and Balu, who live in Fernandina Beach, were named the top TSA K9 Team of the Year this year out of 1,000 teams across the country. Although two-year-old Balu has been lucky enough never to run across any hidden explosives, Deason said he and his dog were recognized for their relationship and the fact he scored 100 percent on his past two certifications. Deason was also credited with good work at Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s inauguration in February.

A K9 handler for 30 years, Deason, who formerly worked for the U.S. Customs Service, said in the past he and other dogs have discovered “all kinds of narcotics, but explosives, thankfully no.”

“I love my job. I’d never do anything else. I get to play with my dog all day,” he said, noting he has worked with Balu since 2013. The black Lab lives with Deason full-time and is expected to work for eight to 10 years before retiring to continue to live with Deason as his pet.

Canine_02Meanwhile, Pomeroy, who lives in Southside, said he became a TSA K9 explosives specialist after retiring as a police officer with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Department.

Unlike Balu, Bobby has discovered explosive components while on duty. During the Jacksonville Airshow at Naval Station Jacksonville last year, the yellow Lab sniffed some ammunition in a vehicle while he and Pomeroy performed vehicle checks at the base entrance.

“We found some ammo, but it was not anything malicious,” Pomeroy said, adding that the driver had forgotten the ammunition was in his toolbox as he tried to enter the naval base.

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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