Working Dogs of CLT Play Vital Role in Airport Experience
Police K-9 on hind legs holding onto gate with police officer in background

April 26, 2023 - Everyone at Charlotte Douglas International Airport has a job to do – even the dogs. That’s right, the dogs.

CLT has more than 35 working dogs at the Airport. They have varying jobs from sniffing out drugs and explosives to easing passenger travel stress to searching for unwanted pests and agriculture that could be harmful to people and business in the U.S.

Scritches behind the ears are encouraged for the CLT Canine Crew, a team of 25 four-legged volunteers that are registered, professional therapy dogs. However, no matter how tempting it might be, the drug and explosive detection dogs and the canine agriculture dogs are hands off. This allows these law enforcement pooches to stay focused on the very important job of keeping the Airport and flights safe and secure.

No matter the job, the dogs of CLT are just like any other employee with important responsibilities.

The CLT Canine Crew

In addition to being a therapy dog, each has at least six months experience working in the field. From a tiny one-eyed white Pomeranian named Nugget to the gentle giant of a Mastiff named Hossa, these easy-going, friendly pups provide canine love, comfort, and support to travelers. Studies show that petting a dog helps reduce stress. At CLT, just seeing the Canine Crew is enough to make people smile.

You know you can pet these dogs because their handlers wear blue CLT Canine Crew T-shirts and each dog sports a blue ‘Pet Me’ vest.

Dylan, an English Cream Golden Retriever, is striking due to his rich, white fur. Super chill, he will walk right up to you, lay down and roll over for some belly rubs. Lydia, a Golden/Lab mix, is a mama bear who is especially good with puppies and is fond of costumes she wears when she comes to the Airport.

Julep and Tillie, both Clumber Spaniels, are a team. Julep is so happy to be here she can’t stop wiggling with excitement, while Tillie is calm and collected. New to the team last summer are Wilbur the Pug and Moose the Staffordshire Terrier mix. Wilbur is always excited to see customers, and Moose melts people’s hearts with the cutest puppy dog eyes.

Since the program’s inception in 2015 the Canine Crew has grown, in size and popularity. Dog teams love to pose for photographs with passengers and petting is always welcome.

The Beagle Brigade

Passengers entering the country at CLT from overseas destinations have likely seen Ears and other members of the Beagle Brigade. These U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) detector dogs are responsible for finding harmful plant pests and foreign animal disease before it enters the country.

Currently, CBP has over 155 Beagle teams (dog and handler equal a team), or Agriculture K9 teams, at U.S. ports of entry. In fiscal year 2022, these dogs referred over 129,000 agriculture products for interception due to the risks from plant pests or diseases.

Ears, age 2, is considered one of CLT’s top dogs. She’s a tiny Beagle that gets a lot of attention. An outgoing, friendly, affable pup, Ears got her name from nipping the ears of other puppies she lived with before entering training as an agriculture specialist. With 445 million scent receptors in her nose, she can scan many passengers and all the luggage from a large international flight in minutes, compared to individual inspections and x-rays that can take much longer.

Ears’ reward for finding prohibited agriculture and pests is treats. She loves salmon, apples and bacon scents and flavors. She gets low-calorie, high protein treats to keep trim since food is a reward. A busy day can mean a lot of treats.

Bomb and Drug Detection Dogs

Unlike Ears, the drug and bomb detection dogs work for their favorite toy.  When they find something in need of inspection, the dogs sit as an alert to their handler.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department manages the Airport’s drug and explosive detection dogs. The explosive detection dogs are part of the Transportation Security Administration but are handled by CMPD through a partnership. Driven and hardworking, these K9s go through months of training before their first job and then train throughout their career.

These law enforcement canine work around aircraft, cargo, vehicles, at checkpoints and in public areas of the Airport. They have a single purpose and receive nonstop training to detect drugs and explosives.

While it is serious work, these pups have unique and fun personalities that their handers often see in downtime at home and in working long hours together.

Because they are working dogs, this crew doesn’t lounge on the sofa, receive treats for tricks or chase their favorite toy in the back yard. Remember, their favorite toy is reward for finding drugs or explosives in their detection work.

Passengers often only see the working side of the dogs.

There is Robi, a Hungarian Vizsla, that despite his seriousness is a very affectionate dog that loves his toys. His favorite is a tennis ball. Robi, 5, also is especially curious about cameras and is not shy about putting his nose print on a lens pointed in his direction.

Erich Eric is a 7-year-old German Shephard who is named for a 9-11 victim. That’s why he has two first names – his own and the name of the person he is named in memory of. Inox, the 3-year-old Malinois, has no fear and is quite serious about his job. His favorite food is strawberries. Nera, an 8-year-old Shephard, is methodical in her work, but a softy underneath that serious exterior. Oh, and she’s a Raiders fan.

Puki, a German Shorthaired Pointer from Greece, is the newest CMPD team member. He’s a lover with an affection for tennis balls. And Mia the Malinois is a social butterfly dubbed ‘mayor of the Airport.”

TSA Explosive Detection Canine Team

The TSA Explosive Detection Canine Team works alongside the CMPD in patrolling the Airport. While the CMPD K9 teams are your typical explosive detection canines that conduct searches of bags, buildings, aircraft, vehicles and cargo, you are more likely to see the TSA Explosive Detection dogs screening passengers and bags in the security checkpoint lines.

Like all the dogs at the Airport, this crew of six hardworking pups is filled with personality.

There is Mongo, a black Labrador Retriever that acts like a playful puppy. Pepe is a yellow Labrador laid back and calm no matter what he encounters. Both love tennis balls for their reward. Don’t be surprised to see Pepe chasing his ball, which is attached to a rope, around the terminal.

Dingo, Baron and Grom2 are German Short Haired Pointers who share duties with Hary the German Shepherd. Baron is the grand old man of the group and loves attention, while the playful Grom2 and Dingo are the newest members of the team. Dingo is a bundle of energy, who loves to work for his tennis ball reward. Grom2 loves to play with his reward, which is a Chuckit! Hary is always looking to work – he’s called the true definition of working canine – and, more importantly, getting his black Kong reward for a job well done.

So, next time you see CLT’s working dogs go pet a Canine Crew member. Please keep your distance from  the Beagle Brigade, the TSA dogs and the CMPD bomb and drug detection dogs while thanking them for their service in keeping travel safe and secure.

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