There are some dogs in the airport you shouldn’t pet. Not because they aren’t cute and friendly, because they are. It’s because they’re working.
Six dogs make up the Allegheny County Police Department’s K9 team. Their acute sense of smell makes them incredibly skilled at finding explosives and narcotics at Pittsburgh International Airport.
Amy Ireland, a patrol officer and explosives detection K9 handler, works with 3-year-old Luna, a German shorthaired pointer, one of the newest dogs to join the team. Together, they have the distinction of being the first all-female team in the department.
“What she’s looking for is a scent that we humans can’t smell,” Ireland said. “Her nose, like all other dog noses, is so good that she can cover a lot of ground faster than any of us could.”
Becoming a K9 handler is something Ireland always hoped for. Her husband was a K9 handler with the department for nearly 20 years before his recent retirement. Ireland was familiar with living with a K9, but being a handler is a completely different experience.
Luna is always excited to come to work and hops into the car with no problem. Ireland added.
“Sticks her head up and is looking through the divider at me like, ‘What’s the plan today? What are we doing, where are we going, who are we seeing?’” she said.
The duo trained for 12 weeks in Texas last year.
“I just didn’t know all the theories and practicalities and leash manipulation skills and everything that went into it,” she said.
Chris Miller, explosives detection K9 handler, and his K9 Bentley, a 6-year-old black Labrador, were paired together in August 2020. Bentley is Miller’s third K9.
“Training is probably, I’d say, the second-most important thing we do behind our actual job. Keeping the dogs sharp requires daily training,” said Chris Miller, explosives detection K9 handler.
That doesn’t mean it’s all work and no play, however.
“We load up in the car and he starts to get excited to get here,” said Miller. “He comes out of the car with the leash, and I make sure he knows that I have his toy, so sometimes I give his toy a squeak or he sees me put it in his pocket and he knows it’s game time.”
K9 patrols add another level of safety at the airport. There’s only so much a police officer can see; together, the teams can cover and clear an area quickly and efficiently.
“What we are looking for, if you think about it in the context of an airport, we are looking for explosives; we can’t afford to miss something,” Miller added.
And that, he said, is why you shouldn’t approach a K9 or try to pet it.
“I know they look cute and cuddly, but they have a job to do, and we need to keep them focused on that job,” he said.
For Ireland, being partnered with Luna is a joy, but just like anything in life, there are challenging days as well.
“To see her work and to see her so happy, and then to know the bigger picture that we are protecting the Pittsburgh International Airport and the passengers and the public, it’s just so gratifying,” she said.