BOYNE CITY — Skipper, an adorable, stray beagle from the Charlevoix Area Humane Society now proudly serves his country in Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection division at the San Francisco International Airport.
But how exactly did a stray romping around Northern Michigan end up in San Francisco?
Adams had previously made inquiries for other dogs with the National Detector Dog Training Center in Georgia, so she was familiar with the program requirements. She contacted detection dog trainer Yen Crawley on Skipper's behalf.
"Usually, we use local dogs and I administer a test to see if the dog is suitable," Crawley said. "But Jodie was knowledgeable and willing to administer a videotaped test, so I decided to screen Skipper by video. The minute I saw that dog searching and digging for food in a hardware store, I knew he was a great candidate for our program."
The store was Ace Hardware in Boyne City, where owner Jim White graciously agreed to let Adams hide food all over the store and then have Skipper find it. They buried food around and behind items in the store, but Skipper found all of it with the drive, determination, and energy Adams first noticed.
"The testing was quite extensive," Adams said. "I took him up and down the street downtown videotaping his reaction to all different situations. They specifically requested that I open an umbrella in his face and film the reaction. Instead of cowering, Skipper just walked right up to the umbrella, sniffed and then went around the umbrella to find me."
In addition to the extensive temperament testing, Skipper required a complete physical with X-rays and blood tests, all completed at Jensen's Animal Hospital in Petoskey.
"It was only about an hour after Crawley saw the video, that she called and said she wanted the dog," Adams said.
So, the 1-year-old Skipper went off to the National Detector Dog Training Center to receive a minimum of two months of education. He was trained to be an agriculture detector dog, intended to be used to find prohibited plant and food items at international borders.
Crawley taught him to distinguish among scents and to sit to alert. He enthusiastically took to the training, she said.
"Usually after a couple of months, I begin to place the dogs," Crawley said. "However, for Skipper's high energy and intelligence, I really needed to look for a handler who could control that energy and keep up with him."
It took about a year to find the perfect match in Peter DeSouza, agricultural specialist canine officer, an experienced canine handler. DeSouza went to Georgia for a few months of training along with Skipper.
The duo has been working at San Francisco International Airport for about four months. Skipper even uncovered several situations that led to item seizures.
"I knew he was going to be great when I picked him up at the airport," DeSouza said. "On our way out of the airport, he alerted on a ham sandwich in a backpack. He had started working already."
Other notable seizures officials attribute to Skipper's keen sense of smell include 40 pounds of prohibited meat and some clove leaves in which authorities found an Asian citrus phyllid — an invasive insect that destroys agricultural crops.
Now Skipper officially belongs to the federal government. He and nine other dogs in the canine unit are well cared for in the airport kennels, DeSouza said.
"These dogs are working dogs," he said. "We can't let them live in homes, because they would alert on the refrigerator and the kitchen table and eventually they would lose their edge as detection dogs. When a detection dog retires, the handlers have the first opportunity to adopt their partners and bring them home."
But for now, Skipper has work to do.
"Skipper is a great dog with his high energy and motivation," DeSouza said. "I've got myself an awesome partner!"