From the moment you set foot — or paw — into the new James J. Maloney Canine Training Facility in Laurel, you know is it is not your typical training facility.
Everything about the new 20,500-square-foot building was designed with those who will use it most in mind — the dogs, or “partners” of their United States Secret Service handlers.
“It is so unique and world class,” said Lt. Col. Geoffrey Kuhlmann, deputy commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District, at the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Sept. 12. “And it came in under budget. For a government project, that is truly amazing.”
Inside the center, the attention to detail is apparent: There is the floor that is not smooth but rather textured to prevent slipping. Doors to individual, spacious kennels are wide enough that a dog should not injury itself in any way. Natural light streams in from windows set purposefully above a dog’s line of sight to prevent distractions. An isolation wing offers its own heating/air-conditioning and plumbing systems to separate dogs that need to be cleared for training or veterinary care from those that are healthy. A veterinary’s office offers around-the-clock care.
For the canines’ human partners, the building includes a large classroom designed to be used by all Secret Service training classes, not just canine. It also houses a kitchen, laundry room, office space and a locker room.
“I love it,” said Erik Sulonen, assistant to the special agent in charge of the canine program. “It has really brought us out of the Stone Age.”
The Secret Service, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, is charged with the responsibility of protecting the nation’s leaders and their families. In 1976, its first canine unit was formed in response to growing terrorism threats. Featuring six dogs and their handlers, the Executive Protection Service, as it was then known, was responsible for locating and detecting explosives.
Renamed the Uniformed Division, the program grew substantially. By 1982, there were 13 canines in service. Today, there are 100 canines in service that were, until recently, all trained in same area, but in a much smaller facility that offered only six cages.
The facility cost just under $10 million. Designed by the U.S. Army Corps, the building was constructed by Harkins Builders Inc., of Columbia.
Additional features at the new facility include two training rooms for dogs.
An “odor introduction” room is where dogs and their handlers discover and act on new scents. A personal screening room allows dogs to detect scents on participants. Both rooms feature one-way mirrors that allow the animal and its handler to be observed without interference by trainers.
Each dog in service is chosen at a young age for a specific task — either detecting explosives or for the Emergency Response Team, which is similar to a SWAT team and used in critical sites — and trained in one of the four divisions of the canine department: traditional explosives for vehicles and sites; personal screening enclosed; the emergency response team or personal screening open areas.
Dogs are typically Belgian Malinois, though for the newest division, the personal screening open areas or “floppy-ear dogs" division, Labrador Retrievers are used.
Upon completion of the training program, dogs are required to return for training at least twice a month. Dogs typically are in service until they are 9½ to 10 years old.
Dogs are rewarded with play time — not treats — and a large yard provides plenty of space. The property also includes a training yard, where the Emergency Response Team put on a short demonstration after the ribbon-cutting.
“They work together and do fight each other,” Sulonen explained, to the crowd, as the dogs were released from their leashes and sat in a circle. “They give their handlers 100% attention.”
Dogs are trained to “remove the threat" and once a bite is secured on a target, they are not to let go until their handlers’ orders.
“This is an exciting day for the Secret Service,” said James Murray, director of the U.S. Secret Service, at the ceremony. “We finally have a state-of-the-art canine facility.”