Thursday August 26 was National Dog Day. As part of the festivities, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) hosted media members to give a demonstration of a small part of the K9 units capabilities at FLL. The event was hosted in conjunction with the TSA and the Broward Sheriff’s Office (BSO) K9 units.
Sergeant Todd Yoder and Officer Richard Betensky of BSO explained how deputies become handlers for the unit. First up is a rigorous selection process for the officers. That is followed by an intensive 3-month training course at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, TX for both officer and dog. Following that course, the BSO handlers return to FLL for K9 assignment and familiarization with the airport. Both the initial familiarization training at FLL and all recurrant training is handled by Officer Betensky. TSA handlers follow a similar procedure.
Because of the climate of South Florida and the amount of time that the dogs spend outside, a wide range of breeds are used. The dogs and their handlers typically work a 10 hour shift. While on duty, their tasks range from terminal patrols to airside tarmac duties. Those duties include the checking of airport personnel working around the aircraft on the ground. The dogs are very closely monitored for excess heat, dehydration, etc, especially while in their patrol vehicles. According to Officer Betensky, the dogs really don’t know that they are working at all. They are doing what comes naturally to them and they are rewarded for those tasks with a few minutes of play before continuing their workday.
TSA Inspector Michael Shade and his dog Brierley demonstrated the daily task of explosive detection with a line of passengers passing by. When a suspicious bag was detected, Brierley immediately alerted and was rewarded with his squeaky toy. Next up, BSO Deputy David Kofalk and his dog Darly demonstrated the detection of suspicious elements in a bag that was left in a conspicuous area of the terminal. Again, once the threat was detected, Darly was rewarded with her squeaky toy and praise from her handler.
K9 units play an immensely important role in the day-to-day operations at FLL and airports all over the world. They perform tasks that are for the majority of the time are away from the eyes of the traveling public, but they maintain the airport’s safety and security at the highest level. For once, it was wonderful to see one or two of their capabilities close at hand.