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Homeless hounds get second chance with DHS

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Top: Photo courtesy of Lackland Air Force Base
Some of Bandera County's homeless hounds may get a chance to join this little guy and get a crack at becoming selected for the Department of Homeland Security service dog program, according to County Attorney Janna Lindig.

Becky Bradford, animal control community liaison, shown with Precinct 2 Commissioner Bobby Harris, has put together a proposal to alleviate overcrowding at the inadequate shelter on Highway 16 North. Some of the county's impounded dogs will be tested to see if they qualify for the Security Canine Training & Evaluation Section of the Department of Homeland.

Bandera County Attorney Janna Lindig recently approached county commissioners with an innovative solution to giving homeless dogs impounded by Bandera County Sheriff's Office animal control officers a new "leash on life."

On Thursday, June 27, Lindig told the court that Becky Bradford, animal control community liaison, had put together a proposal to alleviate overcrowding at the inadequate shelter on Highway 16 North. "I'm excited about this opportunity for dogs to be helped," Lindig said. She explained that the program would be implemented in conjunction with the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Bradford was unable to attend the meeting of commissioners court.

The program would integrate suitable local dogs at the animal control facility into the DHS's canine program at no cost to the county. Dogs accepted into the program would be trained and used for bomb and drug detection as well as on security patrols.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Bobby Harris pointed out, "A lot of the dogs we pick up probably have had previous experience being drug dogs."

Lindig explained that a representative from Homeland Security would select dogs deemed suitable and transport them to a training facility at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. During the first five days, the dogs would undergo rigorous veterinary checks. During the next 10 days, the dogs would be evaluated and undergo rudimentary training. After 15 days, dogs not up to the DHS standards would be returned to the county.

According to Lindig, the 15 days do not include weekends and holiday. "During that time, the county would not bear the costs of feeding the dogs," she said.

On Wednesday, July 3, "CBS This Morning" did a report on the increased number of dogs being utilized not only by DHS, but also by the Transportation Security Administration. John Miller, a former assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said that behavior detection officers scrutinizing people work hand-in-hand with K-9 units that are trained in vapor tracing. According to Miller, the dogs can sniff out minute traces of explosives just not bulk suicide vests or bombs in backpacks.

Clark Larson, who is in charge of the Customs and Border Protections canine program, noted, "There is no technology that trumps the cold nose of a dog."

In August 2010, germanshepherdhome.net reported that the DHS would expand its canine workforce from 2,000 to 5,000 dogs in the next five years. These dogs would be assigned to other government groups such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Coast Guard and the Secret Service. At that time, DHS personnel began accepting homeless dogs from shelters into its canine program.

Previously, DHS had relied on breeders who supplied government agencies with untrained dogs, costing an average of $4,545 per dog, according to records from 2006 and 2007.

According to Bradford's report to the court, people involved in animal rescue realize that high-quality dogs are dying everyday in overcrowded shelters. "Placing these otherwise hard-to-place dogs with Homeland Security would be a win-win situation. Saving these dogs' lives simultaneously saves the government money that would have been spent on 'breeder' dogs," Bradford wrote.

On June 3, Bradford was contacted by Cash M. Lindsay from Lackland AFB. As an evaluator, Lindsay serves with the Instruction & Certification Unit Canine Training & Evaluation Section OLE-Federal Air Marshal Service Transportation Security Administration with the DHS. He will work with Bradford to give a second chance to as many of the dogs impounded in Bandera County as possible.

While lauding the potential for the program, commissioners were somewhat skeptical. No stranger to governmental required data collection, Precinct 1 Commissioner Bob Grimes asked, "Is this the extent of the recordkeeping?" Lindig assured him it would be kept at a minimum.

"Are they serious?" Precinct 4 Commissioner Doug King asked. "The dogs don't have to be spayed or neutered?"

They're taking them 'as is, where is'," Lindig replied. Additionally, she is attempting to negotiate that the government would administer rabies vaccinations to the selected dogs.

Also describing the agreement as a "win-win," Harris opined, "This is about the only good thing I've heard coming out of the government lately.

It's hard to say something good about the government these days."

Pending contract changes and subsequent approval from DHS, the court approved the contract gratefully.