Staff photo: Andy DeLisle Cannon Air Force Base Staff Sgt. Tanya Perez handles her bomb-sniffing dog, Ben, a 2-year-old German shepherd.
By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer
They sniff for explosives or drugs and take down suspects often more than twice their size, all for the chance to have a few seconds with their favorite toy.
Cannon Air Force Base’s military working dogs live to please their handlers and don’t ask much in return for their efforts, according to Staff Sgt. Gerald Hardesty.
And for all their hard work, they are some of the most pampered members of the Air Force, Hardesty said.
“These dogs are actually taken care of better than we are,” he said with a grin, describing heated and air-conditioned kennels, daily health checks, grooming and even a special cooling vest they wear when working in the heat.
Using their noses to sweep buildings, vehicles and other locations for explosives, the dogs are often tasked with protecting traveling dignitaries or base assets in war zones.
Drug dogs, similarly, check for the presence of narcotics.
The closest explosive detection dogs outside Cannon are in Albuquerque.
As a result, Hardesty said, the base has established cooperative agreements with civilian law enforcement agencies throughout the state.
Last week’s bomb threat at Clovis’ Bank of America is an example of the type assistance they provide communities.
The handlers refer to themselves as “mommies” and “daddies” of their four-legged counterparts and said it feels like anything but work.
“Most of the Air Force can’t say, ‘I get paid to play with dogs,’” Staff Sgt. Richard Crotty said.
In agreement, Staff Sgt. Tanya Perez, the unit’s only female, said the dogs make the job for her.
“I have a companion,” Perez said. She is partnered with 2-year-old Ben, a 78-pound German shepherd.
“I would rather have a dog for my partner than I would a human,” she said. “They don’t have bad days. For them, it’s a game.”
Perez said having a K-9 partner adds to her confidence because he provides an extra measure of safety for her on the job.
Hardesty explained while all the dogs are trained to apprehend suspects, they detect either bombs or drugs, not both. Because they cannot communicate to their handlers the distinctions of what they smell, they are given only one scent task to be precise.
“He can’t say, ‘Hey, Dad, it’s a bomb,’ or ‘Hey, Dad, it’s drugs,’” Hardesty said.
Regardless of what they smell, he said the dogs’ noses are unrivaled.
A human may smell a cheeseburger while dogs smell each particle of the cheeseburger, down to the wheat, he said.
Sometimes handlers may not know exactly what the dogs are detecting but because they know their dogs’ senses are superior, they trust the animals implicitly.
They trust the dogs with their lives and rely on their judgment to alert them to danger, Hardesty said. If his dog indicates something isn’t right, that’s all he needs to know, he said.
“If you see a K-9 running from somewhere, you better run, too,” he said laughing, “’cause we’re not messing around.”