K9s hard at work during dog days of summer
YVR canine personnel on pawtrol
Think you’ve got it ruff? Diesel searches for bombs and Nova for guns and opioids. Pilot keeps geese from being sucked into the jet engines of airplanes. Whiskey protects B.C.’s orchards and crops from disease. Branston calms whiteknuckle flyers.
Diesel is a black German shepherd from the Netherlands, and Nova a black Labrador retriever. Pilot is a mudi (a Hungarian herding dog). Whiskey is an agri-beagle mix. Branston a Bernese mountain dog.
They are a few of the canines patrolling Vancouver International Airport, keeping passengers safe, secure and reassured. The dogs, and their handlers, are also having a ball.
“As handlers, we have to come to work and make it fun for the dog,” said Danielle Getzie, Nova’s handler and, like her eight-year-old Lab, a star on National Geographic Channel’s Border Security: Canada’s Front Line.
Nova was trained to search for weapons and drugs. If you are carrying $20,000 in undeclared $100 bills, Nova won’t bother with you (another of the Canada Border Services Agency detector dogs will, though). Nova, like all detector dogs, has been trained to focus on a narrow range of specific smells.
“I could train her to be a pen dog,” Getzie said, pointing to a reporter’s tool-of-the-trade. “She would learn to detect that element and then she would get to play, she’d get a reward.
“I come to work for my paycheque. Nova comes to work for her tennis balls.”
YVR introduced a program last year called the Less Airport Stress Initiative. Yes, LASI.
St. John’s Ambulance personnel wander through the airport and gates letting nervous flyers pet and play with puppies from their therapy dog program.
“We’ve literally had people at the gate stressed out so badly they aren’t sure they’re going to get on their flight. After 10 or 15 minutes with one of the dogs, they’re relieved, they’ve calmed down,” said Reg Krake, YVR’s director of customer care.
The number of dogs at the airport, which at this time of year is handling 90,000 passengers a day, varies, but it’s in the dozens, Krake said.
The dogs are employed by CBSA, private aviation security firm Securiguard, Transit Police, the RCMP and St. John’s Ambulance.
“We check anything left behind, everything at Lost and Found. We walk through the airport, we walk up to passengers,” said Courtney Lee, Diesel the bomb-sniffing German shepherd’s handler. “We investigate vehicles parked by the curb. Pretty much anything we can check, we check.”
Diesel has not had the fun of being rewarded for finding a real bomb (“Thankfully, and hopefully he never does,” Lee said), so he undergoes training at least weekly. “For him, it started by playing with a ball with a training aid inside it. Then you begin to hide it and he has to search with his nose. It evolves from there.
“For Diesel, it’s all about play. He has no idea he has a job to do.”
Ambassador dogs Norman and Mister Bentley greet visitors at YVR’s Dog Days of Summer event on Sunday.