Eight dogs gifted to the Palau government by the United States government in 2020 have suffered and continue to suffer the consequences of a failed K9 program in Palau.
The only female of the eight dogs, Keiko, died recently of injury to its trachea that led to pneumonia and other breathing-related complications. Other dogs suffered from malnutrition, lack of activity, lack of medicines, and injuries due to improper handling and deteriorating facilities.
In a report to President Whipps in December of 2022, National Security Coordinator Jennifer Anson cited the poor conditions of the K9s, such as no feeding schedules for the dogs, no dedicated budget for the program, cheap, low-quality dog food resulting in dogs being underweight, a dog being “extremely” sick and needed to be sent off-island for care, kennel master not competent in running the program, dog handlers not being accountable or dedicated, no accountability for drugs used for training, dog assigned to another bureau in violation of the end-user agreement, and dogs not certified among other concerns.
All of these occurred under the former BPS Director Aquon, and issues were brought to his attention. According to the report, problems worsened with the dogs left unfed and “spinning in their urine and feces until about 10 o’clock when one handler shows up to open the facility.”
Dogs were severely neglected, and handlers would not show up for scheduled meetings with veterinarian, among other concerns reported.
President Whipps, in response, told Vice President Uduch Sengebau-Senior in a letter that the “K9 Program is on the verge of being discontinued if we do not take immediate action” and instructed Vice President Senior to “make necessary management changes within BPS.”
A government official confirms the K9 program report to be one of the reasons former Director Aquon was removed.
The pictures and condition of the dogs were reported to the US government and it contracted the services of a veterinarian for three months to care for the dogs. In January of 2023, one of the trainers that first came with the dogs, Dave Smith, was contracted to train the dogs and the handlers.
The dogs started to gain back their weight, with some showing improvement in their coats but unfortunately, the female K9 Keiko could not recover and died from complications related to her injuries.
A US government report on the Palau K9 program stated that the dogs had improved considerably since the personnel change in the K9 unit, with former handlers removed and Mr. Smith and Annie Emiliano returning to the unit.
Last week, Mr. Smith resigned abruptly from his job, mentioning that he could not work with the new BPS Director Cary Levitre, who had taken over the management of the K9 program.
In an interview with Mr. Smith, he said he was back to facing the same issues as last year. No budget, no funds for proper dog food and dogs are being fed low-quality food resulting in the dogs losing so much weight, affecting their health and performance.
Mr. Smith said that he had to ask for help from the community for food for the dogs and use his own funds to fix the urgent needs of the program due to a lack of budget.
BPS is bringing back the handlers that were removed due to the severe negligence of the dogs. The needed improvements to the facility to protect the dogs from injury, funds for fuel and vehicle repair, medicines for the dogs, and overdue vaccinations have not moved under the new director. Furthermore, out of the $150,000 grant from Taiwan to improve the K9 program, he has been informed that $90k will pay for a contract with locally-based vet services for the dogs, leaving $60k for the remaining needs.
President Whipps, in his remarks during the ceremony honoring the K9 Keiko said that Palau should learn from that incident and move forward, not repeating the same mistakes.
It appears the lessons have not been learned.
Smith said the program should be a stand-alone program under the Ministry of Justice to ensure that the dogs and the program needs are prioritized.
The dogs are the most effective tools in detecting drugs in Palau and it is in certain people’s interest to ensure that the program remains unsuccessful, said Smith.
The military working dog program was set to be the first of its kind in the Micronesian region, funded by the US government to support drug and bomb detection at Palau’s points of entry.
The program initially brought eight dogs with one year of veterinarian services, two years of dog food and construction of a dog kennel in Airai, and 12 weeks of dog handler training.
After the completion of funding and support from the US government in 2021, the program quickly deteriorated, with dogs running out of food, running out of needed medicines, falling behind on their vaccinations, and not being handled and trained properly.
Attempts to reach BPS Director Levitre and National Security Coordinator Jennifer Anson for their responses yesterday were unsuccessful.