I’m a Bomb Dog Now!

My Life as an Explosives-Detecting Canine

by Truman

ATF Explosives Detection Canine Truman

Truman’s my name, and sniffing’s my game. I’m a highly trained explosives-detecting canine with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). I live on a farm with my partner, Special Agent Joe Harrington. We are assigned to the ATF Boston Field Division and are members of the ATF National Response Team.

But, I wasn’t born to be an explosives-sniffing dog — oh no. People had other plans for me. This is the story of my life.

I was born July 3, 2001, in New York. A terrific non-profit organization called The Guiding Eyes for the Blind bred me to be a seeing-eye dog for a blind person. When I started my training in their program, however, they realized I had too much energy to be a service dog. Seeing-eye dogs need to be calm and patient with their disabled handlers.

The nice people at Guiding Eyes had a better idea for me; they thought I would make a great explosives detecting canine. Why? Because I’m full of energy, I’m a hard worker, I’m friendly and I’m smart! Most importantly, I can smell really well — more on that a little later.

I was so excited to learn about the Canine Training Center in Front Royal, Va., where dogs are trained to find explosives (bombs) and accelerants (things that can be used to start fires). The facility is run by ATF, which is a federal government agency and part of the United States Department of Justice.

The Guiding Eyes people have donated Labrador retriever dogs like me to ATF for nearly 20 years, because ATF is a top-notch agency that treats the dogs well and trains them better than anyone else in the world. Only Labrador retrievers are accepted into the training program because we are so friendly, we get along well with other animals and we love to eat (that’s an important part of our training).

As of September 2003, ATF has trained 511 dogs. These dogs now live and work around the world, providing a service like no other. What an honor for me that Guiding Eyes thought I’d be good at this!

In March 2003, ATF canine trainers from Virginia came to New York to adopt me. They were excited to meet me, and they were so nice. They were clearly dog lovers. I knew this was the right move for me.

My time in ATF’s canine facility was great. It is a state-of-the-art facility and is known to be the best in the world. I had a large, clean cage all to myself. I also got lots of exercise, great health care and delicious food to keep me healthy and strong. Everyone who worked there made sure the other dogs and I were well taken care of.

Twelve of us dogs trained together as a class. We trained every day for six weeks with ATF canine trainers. These humans are experts, are very professional, and are dedicated to this canine training program because they know how valuable and important it is.

While some classes specialize in smelling out accelerants, my class specialized in bombs and guns.

We trained hard, but it was fun. It was like playing, but the ATF trainers would give us food every time we sniffed out an explosive (don’t worry, we were so good at it that we always had lots of food!).

I can smell tiny traces of explosives and ammunition residue from guns; I can smell thousands of times better than any human. This is really important, because my smelling ability will help protect the public. Sometimes people do bad things to try to hurt others. I can help stop that from happening, or, if it has already happened, I can find evidence to help law enforcement officers find out who did it so that the person can never do it again.

After six weeks, my trainer said I was imprinted, which means that I can smell small amounts of explosives in all sorts of places and situations.

I found something I am really good at!

The next day, I learned that my partner had arrived. ATF Special Agent Joe Harrington was here to meet me and train with me for 10 weeks. We would become partners in law enforcement. He would be my handler, showing me where to sniff, and I would do the sniffing.

As soon as I saw Joe, I knew I had found the greatest partner any bomb-sniffing dog could ever hope for. We hit it off immediately and instantly became best friends. He even decided to delay his retirement just so we could work together to help protect people.

Joe and I trained together every day for those 10 weeks. The ATF canine trainers worked with us to help Joe and me work together as a team.

Caption to follow

Special Agent Joe Harrington and canine partner Truman practice with the cans detecting explosives odors.

The pictures show us practicing with cans. Some of the cans have explosives residue in them. Joe leads me to the cans and I sniff them. When I detect explosives, I immediately sit — that’s how I tell Joe that I’ve found something. Thanks to ATF training me so well, I’m always right!

Joe and I trained with explosives hidden in trains, planes, buses, cars, houses, stores and just about every other place you can think of. I am such a good explosives detector that I can even let Joe know if there is a gun buried in a backyard or deep in snow. I can’t be tricked by other smells or things used to cover up explosives.

In September 2003, Joe graduated from ATF’s Canine Training Center as a handler. I was so proud of him. Now we’re officially a trained team.

After the graduation ceremony, Joe looked at me and said, Well, Truman. This is it. We’ve finished our training and now it’s time to go to work. We were chosen to help protect the public and save lives. Are you ready?

I was so excited! I barked out a YES! and jumped into Joe’s car and we were off, ready for duty.

You may be wondering what exactly I do now that I’m a trained explosives-detecting canine. Joe and I work closely with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies in the northeastern United States (Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire).

Police officers call Joe and request our help. For example, if there were an explosion, we would be called to the scene. Joe would show me the area to sniff and I would start working. If I smell any explosives, I let Joe know by sitting down.

This is very helpful to police investigators, because I can find evidence that they can use to help find the person who caused the explosion.

But, Joe and I don’t just respond to explosives incidents. We also assist with search warrants. When officers plan to enter an area to search for evidence, they can call Joe and me to help them. Joe will show me where to sniff, and I can find hidden guns or other dangerous things.

Joe and I also help law enforcement by searching areas before special events, like football games or other areas where a lot of people are expected. I sniff the area before anyone arrives to make sure there are no explosives hidden in some small corner or under a chair.

Joe and I are on call to respond 24 hours a day, seven days a week. When we do have a little free time, I relax by playing with Katie, Joe’s family dog, and his cats and chickens. I also love swimming in the river near our house.

I hope you understand how important Joe’s and my jobs are. Because of the great training we received at ATF, we can help prevent criminal acts from happening, and we can help criminal investigators by finding evidence, because of my ability to smell so well.

If you are ever in the northeastern United States, you may see us on television or read about our work in the newspaper. Remember that we at ATF are dedicated to this unique canine program and are honored to be able to help protect the public. On behalf of the more than 30 ATF canine teams working in the United States, thanks for your interest in our work, and be safe!