ANNISTON, Ala. (AP) — A black Labrador retriever wearing a harness that read "do not pet" hurriedly sniffed every person in the room, searching for the telltale odor of an explosive device.
When "Unity" caught wind of the scent she was looking for, she jumped at the heels of the man, not letting him out of her sight. Unity's handlers immediately praised her good work with a tennis ball, which she happily chewed while wearing that unmistakable Lab "smile."
Unity is one of 11 dogs being trained at the Auburn University Canine Detection Training Center at McClellan. The Labs are learning the Auburn-patented vapor-wake training, which means they'll be able to smell a plume of scent left by an explosive device that is worn or carried.
John Pearce, associate director of the Training Center, said they've used vapor-wake training for eight years.
Pearce said the vapor-wake trained dogs cost $24,950 and dogs skilled in vapor-wake and standard explosive detection cost $29,950. The Labs trained in Anniston are used by law enforcement agencies across the country, including the New York Police Department and U.S. Capitol Police. Pearce said he couldn't say with absolute certainty, but if one of his Labs had been at the Boston Marathon the pressure cooker bombs that killed three people might have been discovered before they went off.
"We feel strongly that if they were given an opportunity to work that they're very good at doing that," Pearce said.
The facility not only trains the dogs, but breeds them as well. Pearce said between 10 and 12 litters of puppies are born each year. At 13 weeks old, the puppies are sent to prisons in Florida and Georgia where they are raised by inmates.
"They're raised in a very controlled way. Everything we do with them in the prison is planned for vapor-wake later on," he said.