Detroit Metro Airport K-9s add extra layer of security

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News
CeeLo, 7-year-old agriculture K-9, works for CBP sniffing for food and prohibited items in international travelers at Detroit Metro.

Romulus — Ahead of the busiest travel season, Detroit airport security is stepping up  safety efforts by showcasing some of their best friends. 

Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport Police Department, Transportation Security Administration and Customs and Border Patrol have unleashed about 10 dogs to search the airport for prohibited food, narcotics, explosives and suspicious items, officials say.

Last year, about 5.6 million passengers were screened at Detroit Metro between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The airport is expecting to screen more than 6 million in the same timeframe this year, said TSA spokesman Mark Howell. 

Three-year-old K-9 Bobi sniffs passengers luggage on their way to checkpoint screening.

"This last Friday was the busiest travel day we've had on record screening nearly 2.8 million people, and it is going to stay that busy throughout the summer, so you will see these dogs on hand and some others throughout the airport working to keep things secure," Howell said. "On average, we screen about 2.2 million a day, but we project this to be the busiest summer ever."

Dogs are used as an additional layer of security to screen passengers before they reach security checkpoints, Howell said. 

"They are sniffing out things while people stand in lines that could potentially be dangerous like explosives and components that make them," he said. "These dogs are our mobile detection capability that allows us in a quick second if a passenger is a potential threat."

The dogs come from kennels and are trained at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas for 12 weeks before getting adopted into the families by their handlers, who work at the airport. 

Most of the breeds used for screenings are floppy-eared like Belgian hound dogs, pointers and retrievers. Customs and Border Patrol prefers beagles for its department and has since 1984.

CeeLo, a CBP agriculture K-9, sniffs out ham in a line of suitcases at Detroit Metro Airport on May 30, 2019.

Rachael Ankenbauer, a Customs and Border Patrol agriculture specialist, said her dog, CeeLo, looks for fruits, vegetables, meats and plants in luggage from international arrivals. 

"You don't want these insect pests and plant diseases or livestock diseases coming in from out of the country that can affect our own crops in America because we don't have those here," Ankenbauer said. "It costs taxpayers millions of dollars to eradicate those that do get in our country. People have plenty of time to declare these items in their travel and should do so."

On Wednesday, a K-9 found a cotton bull worm on a flower and mangos from India. They have also confiscated such items as seeds, whale sausage, pig skin, Asian pork and dead bats. 

Explosive detective dogs such as Johny, a German Shepard, are used to check on unattended bags and vehicles. 

"We get called to unattended bags and other things we have to search constantly," Detroit Metro Police Sgt. Michelle Farmer said. "We deem them safe and try to find the owner or take them to lost and found. People get scared when they see bags unattended, which comes with a $500 fine because they don't feel like taking the bag to a restaurant or bathroom. 

"Don't leave anything unattended," she said.

K-9 Johny, a three-year-old German Shepard, searches for possible explosives in an unattended bag in the lobby of Detroit Metro Airport McNamara Terminal.