ROMULUS, Mich. – It’s Monday morning at Detroit Metro Airport and 5-year-old Perry is hard at work.
The German Shorthaired Pointer has a job to do: Search for explosives at the airport. Because Perry has gone through 12 weeks of training and still trains every day, she knows exactly what she is looking for. She can’t make a mistake, or it could cost human lives.
“The dog knows what they’re looking for and is proficient,” said TSA Agent Chris Raetano. “She’s my partner. I trust her with my life, basically. She tells me everything I need to know. What’s going on around me. So, I trust her.”
Raetano and Perry have been partners for three years. Our cameras were there as TSA agents tested the dog in a security line. An undercover TSA member was carrying an actual explosive on him. It took Perry just seconds to react and detect the explosive scent. She responds, and is rewarded with a toy.
“That is rewarding her for the ordor she’s trained on, and to keep her motivated, to keep her wanting to find that odor. We give her the toy, tell her good job, you know,” said Raetano.
Steve Lorincz is the federal security director with the Department of Homeland Security and TSA. While he can’t reveal the exact number of canines working the airport at any given time, he admitted they are all over, and travelers may not even realize it.
“We use them at the checkpoints, at the security checkpoints. We do screening of aircraft. We do cargo screening. So anything as far as within the aviation sector, within the airport sector, we utilize our K9 teams,” said Lorincz.
We also watched a 9-year-old black Labrador named Houdini inspect a gate area.
“We’re just literally walking through, screening all of the passengers, all the seats, all the trash cans, all of the ticket counters and everything just to make sure no one’s put anything anywhere and everybody’s safe getting on the plane,” said TSA Agent Becky Cooper.
Houdini was searching for explosives, too. There was a man at the gate area who was planted in one of the seats with explosives. It didn’t take the dog very long to detect the threat.
“He’s either going to sit or lay down when he finds an odor that he’s been trained to detect,” said Cooper. “Since they are searching for explosives, we don’t want them to accidently set them off, so a passive response is best to make sure nothing bad happens.”
About 30,000 to 45,000 bags are screened each day at Detroit Metro Airport. Lorincz said their canine teams respond to hundreds of suspicious packages every year.
"When we have unattended bags, or we have items that are suspicious, we usually have one of our K9 teams deployed to that area to make sure we are able to clear it. And if we can’t, of course we work with our local bomb apraisal officers and our bomb teams to make sure that we are able to clear the system,” he said.
When Perry and Houdini aren’t working they are at home with their handlers enjoying life just like any other dog.
"Most people are really glad to see us out here because they know we are trying to keep them safe,” Cooper said.