Friday, December 28, 2007

Working for kibble to keep you safe

If a chocolate lab parks itself in front of your car or house, it might be best to think about finding a lawyer.

Since July, crime fighting has had an extra set of eyes, ears, nose and paws as Canadian Border Services Agency introduced Bailey and her handler to the North Coast.

The CBSA website has a section dedicated to their canine unit and dog handlers, an informative look at their duties as well as a photo gallery of pictures featuring a cuddly but effective bunch of dogs ready to seek out any kind of contraband.

The Daily news had a front page story in Thursday’s paper detailing the success of Bailey, the cost effective crime fighter for the Rupert area and how much work is involved to keep her fit for duty.


By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Thursday, December 27, 2007

Pages one and two

While Prince Rupert RCMP await the arrival of a new inspector and a staff sergeant, the community is fortunate to have two newly-arrived law enforcement officers already busy taking a bite out of crime.

Canadian Border Services Agency officers James Scott and his partner Bailey got to town in July, and they have settled into their new home and job quite nicely.

The two have been together since April, when Scott completed a 10-week training course in Quebec where he was partnered with Bailey. And they are nearly inseparable, except at night when Bailey sleeps in her kennel in the backyard.

"Our relationship is just like a family pet, but with different types of training," said Scott. "We're partners every day, 24/7.”

One of only 72 human/canine partnerships in the CBSA, Scott and Bailey are a drug and firearms detection unit that has been highly valuable in their service to citizens of Prince Rupert and Canada.

The two are active in inspecting vessels and passengers that dock locally, whether cargo ships, container ships, cruise ships or ferries.

“In addition, we do work, with the RCMP and other government agencies, like U. S. Customs,” said Scott.

“We’re also involved in executing search warrants, and of course training every day. Bailey has been very successful in her short career in Prince Rupert so far.

There are some ongoing investigations, so I can’t give out any details. But she’s been successful detecting firearms and drugs in Prince Rupert since July,”

Bailey is a playful two-year old chocolate lab, and her partner is a university grad with an education in political science and sociology.

Scott says that going from being a regular CBSA officer to a dog handler was a large lifestyle change because of the responsibilities that accompany the job.

“You have to be dedicated to your job to be a dog handler,” said Scott.

“You have to be willing to always be on-call, you have to travel on short notice, you have to take care of the dog and maintain them at home. It’s been a big lifestyle change for me, but it’s worth it when you get to see your dog progress and advance.”

While Scott’s relationship with Bailey is similar in many ways to that of the average dog owner, once a year the pair is evaluated by CBSA officials to ensure Bailey is progressing in detection and Scott is fulfilling his training duties.

“At the same, she’s fully integrated to me, my family and my life, with a few exceptions – I can’t treat her like a regular dog, like let her in the house or give her treats. She’s on a strict diet and needs very specific training every day,” said Scott.

The CBSA uses labs as the breed of choice for drug and firearm detection due to their size and social nature, since a majority of their job involves inspecting small areas and working with people. Labs are also best suited for the job since detectors need to fit into small spaces – labs are agile and have enormous amounts of energy.

While it’s obvious that narcotics would have distinct smells, the common smell of most guns is something humans can’t easily detect. Bailey and other detector dogs are able to become familiar with the scent of a firearm due to the gun powder, gun oil and blueing agent common among all firearms.

“It’s a very distinct odour, as all guns that come out of the factory have been fired at least once and carry the odour” said Scott.

With drug training, the dogs are introduced to the scent of what are referred to as ‘soft drugs’, such as marijuana or hash, which carry a strong scent. When they locate the drug, they are taught to notify the handler with a reflex, such as sitting in front of the suspected area. That successful behaviour is rewarded through positive reinforcement, in Bailey’s case getting to play with her Kong toy for a short period, running around and having fun.

“After the basic training, we’ll make the hides harder and get the dog to a search pattern,” said Scott. “Through repetition and training, they gradually learn to look for that odour in order to get their praise and reward.

As much as Scott might like to think of Bailey as his dog, she is the property of the CBSA. The partnership does come with some perks aside from the obvious companionship, such as Bailey’s food and vet costs being covered, and the custom outfitted SUV with a kennel built into the backseat for traveling.

“I’m liking the job up here, and I have plans to stay as long it’s exciting up here,” said Scott. “Right now, it’s a great time for CBSA. In the past few months I can see we’re making a difference and helping keep the community safe.”

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