June 14, 2007
Israeli puppies walk the beat with L.A. sheriffs
When Los Angeles Sheriff's Deputy Richard Faulk strolled into Los Angeles' Union Station on a recent Monday morning, his new Israeli partner, Ami, walked beside him. The blond-haired sabra is disarmingly friendly, maybe even a little frisky.|
In Hebrew, Faulk tells him "Tovah kelev, tovah," or "good dog," and his Israeli partner wags his tail.
Ami is a yellow Labrador from Pups for Peace, an Israeli organization founded in Los Angeles that trains dogs for counter-terrorism work. He is one of four dogs the group has supplied from Israel to the L.A. County Sheriff's Department's Transit Services Bureau as part of a pilot program in California.
The pair's visit to the station is intended to serve as both a terrorist deterrent and prevention education for the public. While they're on the lookout for suspicious behavior, Faulk and Ami are also there to establish a public presence. "Just seeing a law-enforcement official with a dog is the best deterrent," Faulk said.
People who approach them know these are genial dogs, he says. "They aren't bite dogs," Faulk explained, referring to police dogs. "These aren't the dogs on 'Cops.' They are friendly and simply here to smell for bombs."
Pups for Peace signed a deal with the state Governor's Office of Homeland Security in 2006 to train eight California law-enforcement officers, with the state covering the more than $400,000 in expenses. The organization has already trained 300 dogs and 150 handlers in Israel.
"Our goal is to meld Israeli concepts and American concepts of anti-terrorist defense," explained Frank Quiambao, special assistant to the director of California's Department of Homeland Security.
In April, the eight officers - two each from Los Angeles and Sacramento, and one each from San Mateo, Santa Clara and Alameda County Sheriff's departments as well as the San Francisco Police Department - were sent to Israel to train with Pups for Peace. The handlers entered into a condensed training with their dogs over a two-month period; Pups for Peace training traditionally takes six months.
The officers were sent to bombing sites, where they learned how past terrorist attacks were planned and carried out. They studied terrorist culture, from indoctrination to the religious attitudes of suicide bombers, and trained in the Israeli martial art Krav Maga, hand-to-hand combat.
The handlers were also taught the basic Hebrew phrases their dogs have been trained to understand, including "search," "drop" and "lay down."
Economist Glenn Yago created Pups for Peace in Los Angeles in early April 2002, following the Passover massacre at the Park Hotel. The group operates a training facility in Netanya , with another due to open in Alameda this summer. The group hopes to expand internationally.
"At first we thought people would be afraid, that they'd think of the Nazis, but people feel much more comfortable, much safer with dogs around," said Pups for Peace Operations Director Yoram Doctori, referring to the use of dogs as a defense tactic throughout Israel.
Quiambao pointed out that Americans already are familiar with the use of bomb-snifing dogs, which makes them comfortable with the Israeli ones.
The Pups for Peace dogs require no quarantine upon immigration. They are blue blood, raised with top-notch veterinary care and immunized regularly, like children at the pediatrician.
Faulk and Ami have committed to a mutually beneficial six- to nine-year relationship, beginning with their recent training in Israel under Pups for Peace's counter-terrorism model. Ami rides in Faulk's air-conditioned cruiser during the day and comes home with him at night.
While the LAPD and Sherrif's Departments train their own dogs for a specific purpose - smelling a stationary explosive package, a gun or maybe to help find a killer - Pups for Peace dogs are part of a three-unit team extensively trained to sniff out and sense a moving suicide bomber.
Organizers say the dogs can smell the nervousness, sense the racing heartbeat and virtually detect the anxiety of a killer.
"When people are about to commit a crime they do not walk cool and collected. There is often a lot of praying involved," explained Annette Rubin, board chairwoman for Pups for Peace.
The organization uses an extensive selection process in choosing their dogs. A Pups for Peace dog must exhibit a high energy level, love playing with toys, have an obsessive-compulsive desire to seek out an object for a reward and have the stamina to stay focused for an extended period of time. No distractions, no fear - these are dogs of steel.
Over time there will be more dogs in Los Angeles, predicts Pups for Peace and associated law enforcement agents.
"The main thing to do is to get the population of the United States to realize there is a threat," Quiambao said. "People need to be aware. That's the key - to be observant."