Bomb-Sniffing Dogs Join Security Effort at Galveston Port

In effort to track down possibility of incoming weapons, highly trained canines are enrolled in Galveston Port's security detail


GALVESTON -- Cora and Touche let their noses do the talking Wednesday morning.

The 50-pound Belgian Malinois dogs showed off their knack for finding explosive devices as they scoured the Port of Galveston cruise terminal. The devices were planted by the dogs' handlers, but that didn't matter to the well-trained pooches.

The two dogs are the latest additions to the local U.S. Coast Guard and the agency's effort to secure area ports.

"Find it," commanded Petty Officer Aaron Harcourt as he led Touche by a leash inside an empty cruise terminal.

Within minutes the dog smelled something under a rack of tourist brochures and sat down. The smell came from an incendiary device placed under the rack by Harcourt.

"She's trained to sit whenever there is a find," Harcourt said.

Explained Petty Officer Don Warden: "That is a passive response. You don't want the dog going after the device. They are trained to sniff and then sit patiently when they find an explosive."

Once the dogs make a find, the animals are treated to a rolled-up towel to chew on. Most of the morning it was harder for Harcourt and Warden to take the towel away from the dogs than it was for the dogs to find the explosive devices.

Whenever Harcourt and Warden tried to take the towel, the dogs would playfully growl at their handlers. Once the handlers said, "Drop it," the fun was over. Harcourt and Warden each recently completed a 16-week training session to handle the K-9s. Although based in the Houston/Galveston region, the two may be deployed to other ports throughout the United States, said Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer Andrew Kendrick.

The dogs are part of a growing effort under U.S. Homeland Security to better secure vulnerable ports around the country after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Harcourt and Warden said they will work with other federal agencies such as the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Customs as well as local authorities to search vessels coming into the Port of Galveston and the Port of Houston.

"We'll go wherever they need us. We have the capability of being airlifted to a vessel," Harcourt said.

The Galveston and Houston ports already have security forces in place but Harcourt and Warden said they will be assisting when called upon.