Just yards from the U.S.-Canadian border in Blaine, customs and border dog Greya, on a work break, can’t resist a strip of bush-shaded grass and does what dogs do — gets down to roll, wiggle and shimmy with her feet in the air. Greya is a 3-year-old Belgian Malinois, a breed sought for law enforcement work because of their smarts, confidence, and hardworking nature. But 51-pound Greya has something else, says her U.S. Customs and Border Protection K-9 handler Patricia Williams. “She’s very approachable,” said Williams. “She’s very small, doesn’t look too scary.”
Especially now. But the next time Greya goes belly down, a half-hour later, it’s with intensity and purpose when she singles out a car with a bag of hashish tucked under the front fender.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection canine program has been around since 2009, but trained dogs have been used to protect our borders since 1987. The program’s first priority is to thwart terrorists from gaining entry, second is to detect and seize drugs and other contraband. The canine program also assists in local law enforcement.
In Blaine, eight dogs sniff out everything from narcotics to apples to humans in hiding. At the Peace Arch entry, the numbers tell the story: six of the eight dogs specialize in narcotics detection, and one each for agriculture and currency/firearms.
Greya’s approachability has made her the rare candidate for summer school in canine pedestrian training. “I think she’ll be very good in the pedestrian environment,” said Williams. “She’s very social with people, different from other dogs I’ve had. She has to be able to sniff people (who are) carrying packages…It will be easy for her. If they have anything, she’ll let me know.”
Two-year-old Nero, partner of 22-year veteran K-9 handler Randy Sanders, has the classic look of a law enforcement dog — 72 pounds of energetic German shepherd on high alert. Dogs and handlers are certified as teams and stay together. When dogs retire — some can work as late as age 10 or 12 — most officers adopt their partners. Williams and Sanders have each adopted their previous dogs and plan the same with Greya and Nero. “Most of us really love dogs,” Sanders said. “So you get to work with something that you love.”
The CBP (Customs and Border Protection) canines arrive for work at the Peace Arch port of entry each day from an off-site kennel contracted to house them. Nero and Greya were selected for duty as puppies after CBP training in Front Royal, Va. (Greya) and El Paso, Tex. (Nero). Dogs can begin work as early as age 1 or 2.
Williams, a former vet technician, has worked with animals most of her professional life. She finds training dogs for law enforcement gratifying. A highlight: The first time they find drugs on their own. “You get (the dog) and it’s pretty raw,” she said. But then, “you get to see this rough cut turn into a gem.”