A US Air Force paw patrol at Kirtland
By SCOTT TURNER | Albuquerque Journal | Published: June 24, 2020
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (Tribune News Service) — Lefty is a playful black Labrador retriever who loves being petted and chasing after toys.
She would not seem to fit the description of what many think a military working dog would look like. But the 3-year-old is good at sniffing out drugs and other contraband and has already worked with the Marine Corps.
She is one of three new military working dogs at Kirtland Air Force Base, having arrived this month from Camp Pendleton in California.
Waiting on her were a pair of Belgian Malinois named TTaylor and Betyar, who arrived at the base within the past three months from Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.
“She has that detection capability that we need to protect the base, but no patrol work, no bite work for Lefty,” said Tech Sgt. Joseph Tejada, Kirtland’s kennel master. “She’s going to be used for detection, finding contraband, protecting the base from stuff that could harm people and other resources as well.”
Her more intimidating-looking “colleagues,” TTaylor and Betyar, will be used for patrol work.
“They are patrol-capable, find the bad guy, attack,” Tejada said. “If someone sneaks on the base, they would be able to track them down and bite, hold and release, when the handler tells them to release.”
All three dogs seemed to be in a playful mood outside the 377th Air Base Wing headquarters on Tuesday morning. They still have puppy tendencies, Tejada and their handlers said.
TTaylor, whose extra “T” is designation of being part of the breeding program at Lackland, may be the youngest working dog on base, turning 2 this week. Betyar is about 3½ years old, Tejada said.
The dogs are bonding with their handlers, which can take one to four months, said Lefty’s handler, Staff Sgt. Brenden David.
“They have a rapport-building time,” Tejada said. “They just interact with each other. It’s all positive, all play for the dog. They normally do that for a week or two, until the dog and the handler get to know one another or become familiar with one another.”
The bonding between David and Lefty seems to be going well.
“Every time she sees me, she knows she’s going to get pets, get a toy and go play and go for a walk,” David said. “She loves me just because of that.”
Tejada said dogs train for thousands of hours before they become certified. And the training doesn’t end once they come on base. Betyar’s been in training for about 2½ months, TTaylor a little more than a month.
“We’re building on what they already know,” Tejada said.
TTaylor is honing his obedience skills, patrol skills and detection skills.
“He’s doing very good,” his handler, Staff Sgt. Collin Lewis, said. “He’s got a really strong drive to find people and decoys who are hiding out. His patrol work is very strong.”
And Betyar “surpassed the standard,” said Staff Sgt. Tyler Adams, who was subbing for the dog’s handler.
Depending on their health, dogs like Lefty, TTaylor and Betyar could serve as working dogs up to 12 years of age, although some retire when they are 6 or 7, Tejada said.
When they retire, the Air Force makes an effort to adopt them out.
“More often than not, they go with their most recent handler or a previous handler,” Tejada said.