Giving Afghanistan war dogs a new purpose

Former military dogs are being retrained as Prince George's County Police K9s.

WASHINGTON — It was graduation day for a few tough pups. These war heroes, once precious guides for Marines in Afghanistan, will now be fighting crime locally in Prince George’s County.

On Friday morning at the police department’s Special Operations Division in Riverdale, six former military bomb dogs graduated after eight weeks of training as the Basic EOD (Explosive Ordnance Detection) Canine Class 14-01.

“It’s an honor to say six K9s are graduating: Shaggy, Slick, Ringo, Razz, Bill and Kane. They have served this country with great heroism in the United States Marine Corps as IED detection K9s,” says Corporal Jeff Walden with Prince George’s Police K9 Unit. He was the head trainer for the new graduating class of bomb dogs for the county.

The dogs are war veterans, and did multiple tours with the Marines, deploying “to the most dangerous and hostile place in the world, Afghanistan,” noted Cpl. Walden, who’s been a K9 handler for more than 18 years. This has included four years as a military dog handler in the U.S. Air Force, and a K9 trainer for the past eight years at the police department.

“Being lead instructor for Canine Class 14-01, I can’t say I trained these dogs, I’m proud to say these dogs trained me,” he said.

Sgt. Robert Heverly is with Prince George’s K9 Unit and is trainer of the K-9 unit and the handler of one of the new graduates, Razz, a nearly seven-year-old black Lab.

“It’s great, the community loves it, they’re Labs,” he said.

Sgt. Heverly says the military dogs were trained to work off-leash far from their handlers. He says they maintained that military training, which has helped speed things along. “Before the traditional way of using a leash and walking backwards would take hours,” said Sgt. Heverly. “We’re clearing large fields in five-minutes.”

The military spends about $40,000 each on the highly-trained dogs, which are now considered surplus. The government contractor which trained the dogs for the Marine Corps, K-2 Solutions, was trying to figure out what to do with the dogs.

“In 2009, more than 650 explosive detection dogs were requested to go to Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Cpl. Walden. “But in 2011 they cut back and said they only needed 150 bomb dogs. So they had a surplus of explosive detection dogs.”

He says they decided to reach out to police departments nationwide to see if they wanted to adopt the bomb dogs for free.

But now the program is starting to wind down after nearly two years of giving the K9s away. Cpl. Walden said last year the Prince George’s Police Department picked up two dogs as a sort of pilot program to see how they worked out. “They worked out fantastic and the cost was perfect” — free.

In addition to one dog sniffing out on the bomb squad, two of the graduate dogs will now report to the Maryland National Capital Park Police.

See some of these pups in training:

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