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When Auburn Police Sgt. and K9 program supervisor James Perry and his canine partner Ikia are working, Perry’s thoughts occasionally return to his 2003 deployment with the Alabama National Guard in Iraq. It was there he saw firsthand the havoc that IEDs (improvised explosive devices) cause, as well as how military dogs, like his 8-year-old crossbred Labrador retriever/German wire-haired pointer, help prevent tragedy and make soldiers and civilians safer.
Today, keeping people safe is the mission of Perry and other handlers in the city of Auburn Police Division (APD) K9 program. It is also the primary goal of the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine’s Canine Performance Sciences (CPS) program, which has led to the two programs forming a close and cooperative relationship. The APD has four dogs bred at CPS to become detection dogs, or so-called Auburn Dogs – Ikia, Ginger, Underdog and Blair. Three are trained in explosives and firearms detection and one to locate narcotics.
“Auburn’s CPS program breeds dogs specifically for performing detection work and is the longest continuously running institutional detection-dog breeding program in the nation,” said Pamela Haney, manager of CPS performance research and development. “From the time they are 3 days old, our puppies are engaged in age-appropriate protocols to prepare them for detection tasks. By the age of 12 months, the dogs have had several evaluations assessing their potential to be successfully trained as detection canines. We focus on preparing dogs that will be placed with operational explosives detection programs, particularly for the specialty of person-borne explosives detection.
“Some dogs may be retained by the program for detection-related research across myriad other target materials, including improvised/homemade explosives, endangered and invasive species ecological detection and biological/restricted hazardous agents,” she said. “One or two of the highest-performing dogs from successful litters are retained for breeding, and other dogs are retained with particular characteristics conducive to needed special detection research, development and other applications.”