Bomb dog Greer is hunting for hidden explosives. It takes the 2-year-old lab less than 3 minutes to sniff out a block of C-4.
Senior Tpr. Matthew Switzer and his dog have been together for about a year. Greer and Nacoma are the newest K-9 members of the Vermont State Police Bomb Squad. Both labs were plucked from a Seeing Eye dog program and trained by the Connecticut State Police before being partnered with their Vermont bomb techs.
"Greer's no patrol dog. She's not a German shepherd or Malinois. So, she's very friendly, people-friendly. She's not a biter. She doesn't even bark," Switzer said.
The bomb squad intentionally recruits labs because it's a breed that puts people at ease and the team can easily navigate crowds. Sgt. Robert Lucas and Freesia were partners for eight years, working and living side by side.
"She's completely part of our family," Lucas said. "That's the one great thing about these dogs, they want them very socialized. They want them to be part of your family."
Veterans like Oak and Freesia have been assigned to sniff out pipe bombs, recover shell casings, protect presidents, governors and other dignitaries. They do not search for drugs or criminal suspects. Instead, they're certified in 28 odors that help them locate explosive compounds.
"Those 28 different odors make up over 19,000 different types of explosives," Lucas explained.
Their meticulous training requires discipline. It's based on a regimented reward system, that's not only around-the-clock responsibility, but a lifestyle.
"It's really a dedication to the dogs and the program," Lucas said. "It's not as simple as going home and throwing a bowl of food down for the dogs to go ahead and eat."
Instead, the bomb techs feed the dogs by hand 30 to 60 times a day. One kibble per successful detection. Feeding should never occur in the same spot twice, so troopers often make training pit stops during the day and have obstacles setup at home. This intense relationship forges a natural bond.
"She's definitely changed every aspect of our personal lives and our work lives," Switzer said.
But like every trooper on the job, there comes a point when it's time to turn in the badge. For these dogs, their careers will last about a decade. Oak and Freesia retired three weeks ago. It's been an adjustment for both their handlers and the dogs.
"She's ready to go; she doesn't know that she's retired yet. It's one of those challenges that we're both working through," Lucas said.
In many cases the retired dogs remain with their partners, learning how to become a full-time family pet. And if there's one thing that makes tough troopers coo, it's man's best friend. Proud papas snapping shots of two generations of crime-fighting dogs.
The Vermont State Police put canines to work in a variety of ways. They have about 15 drug dogs, two cadaver dogs and an arson dog. German shepherds and Malinois breeds are typically used for those jobs. TSA also has three dogs in Vermont.
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