published Monday, December 28th, 2009

A nose for danger


by Jacqueline Koch

BY THE NUMBERS

* 36: ATF-trained dogs handled by ATF agents

* 115: ATF-trained dogs handled by local and state agencies

* 661: Number of explosive-detection dogs trained by ATF nationwide since 1991

* 138: Number of accelerant-detection dogs trained by ATF nationwide since 1991

* 21: ATF teams, including dogs, in foreign countries providing support

Source: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

Iroquois, a 21/2 year old Labrador retriever, didn't make the cut as a seeing-eye dog.

"He wants to stick his nose everywhere and pull along whoever he has," said Steven Brown, a Chattanooga Police Department field training officer and bomb technician.

But his curiosity -- a disadvantage for a seeing-eye dog -- makes him an ideal explosives-detection dog.

The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives bought Iroquois from a seeing-eye foundation and donated him to the Chattanooga Police Department for use in explosives detection. He and Officer Brown, his handler, recently spent 10 weeks in Virginia learning to work together and detect components of explosives.

The police department already has an explosives-detection dog, but not one provided by ATF.

Iroquois can detect at least 19,000 explosives compounds, including homemade explosives, guns and shell casings, and can be used to search buildings during bomb threats.

Other ATF dogs are trained to find accelerants, as in the case of arson.

ATF dogs have been used at national events such as the Super Bowl and also in the Washington, D.C., sniper shooting investigation.

"If these dogs don't find it, people die," Officer Brown said.

Iroquois sniffs for explosives and sits when he finds them or a spot where they previously were. He operates on a food reward system.

Iroquois lives at Officer Brown's home, strengthening the bond of trust the pair developed during training.

Iroquois plays as hard as he works, Officer Brown said, and gets into almost everything and has a strong, high-strung personality.

  • photo
    Staff Photo by Tim Barber Chattanooga Police Department bomb dog Iroquois sits for his trainer Steven Brown at ATF headquarters.

"He's definitely full of himself," he said. "He's (like) a 15-year-old adolescent male. He likes to get mouthy with me."

The ATF provides dogs free to local and state agencies to assist in explosives and accelerant detection. Many dogs originally were trained as seeing-eye dogs but were too curious for that job.

"We'd like them to be curious," said Darryl Hill, resident agent in charge of the Chattanooga ATF office. "We want them to investigate, want them to move around a little more than the average seeing-eye dog."

Before Iroquois' arrival, dogs were brought to Chattanooga from Nashville or Atlanta as needed, Agent Hill said. When officials wanted to conduct gun sweeps in schools, they needed to request dogs from other areas. Now a dog is ready immediately, he said.

"He's going to be invaluable to us," he said. "It's a force multiplier. Giving these dogs to these departments helps their communities, but it helps us, too."

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