Welles: Dogs are workers, too

Canines put in long hours and bring unique skills to their federal assignments

Some government workers are four-legged. The Federal Emergency Management Agency coordinates deployment of search-and-rescue teams that include handlers and their dogs. The most recent deployment followed Hurricane Katrina.

FEMA sent two veterinary assistance teams to the

affected Gulf Coast states as part of 23 teams deployed through the National Disaster Medical System. The veterinary teams brought hospital tents and other mobile equipment to support and rescue pets and also provide veterinary care for rescue dogs.

Civilian volunteers and members of fire and police departments receive training and certification, along with their dogs, for FEMA's search-and-rescue teams.

The largest search-and-rescue deployment occurred in response to the 2001 terrorist attacks. About 80 dogs, members of 20 certified FEMA search-and-rescue teams, were active in rescue efforts at the World Trade Center site. About 20 were part of teams at the Pentagon.

Teams used many breeds, including German, Australian and Belgian shepherds; yellow, black and chocolate Labrador retrievers; golden retrievers; Portuguese waterdogs; German short- hair pointers; Belgian Malinois; border collies; Doberman pinschers; giant schnauzers; rat terriers; and several mixed-breed dogs.

At the Justice Department's Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, employees train dogs to detect explosives for public safety duty worldwide. At the Homeland Security Department, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection recently graduated 10 teams from its Canine Enforcement Training Center.

Rescue dogs are also family dogs for some federal employees. Chance is a Belgian Sheepdog and hearing companion for Nancy Sanders, an information technology specialist at the U.S. Geological Survey. They trained together in twice-weekly classes until he was certified. Now Chance comes to work with Sanders every day and helps alert her to emergency alarms and drills.

Ruth Ladd, a wetland scientist at the Army Corps of Engineers facility in Concord, Mass., trains guide dogs for Guiding Eyes for the Blind (www.guidingeyes.org) in her spare time. Now training their fifth guide dog, she and her husband care for puppies until they are about 18 months old. The dogs are then tested before beginning formal guide dog training with harnesses or entering alternative careers as sniffer dogs.

Some federal employees train dogs for rescue duties, and others rescue dogs that have been abused or abandoned. Jane Singley, who led procurement activities at the National Gallery of Art before she retired, has been working with the Cocker Spaniel Adoption Center (www.cockeradoption. org) for 10 years, starting with her own rescued cocker spaniel. She now owns two rescued dogs and is a foster owner for others.

Welles is a retired federal employee who has worked in the public and private sectors. She lives in Bethesda, Md., and writes about work life topics for Federal Computer Week. She reached at judywelles@fcw.com.


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