The K9 Handler Course, designed to train Palau’s law enforcement to work with drug-and-bomb-detecting dogs, is expected to begin next week on November 2.

The $2.6 million program, funded by the US Department of Defense, has contracted five working-dog professionals from Bellum K9, LLC, a protection dog supply company, to teach personnel from the Narcotics Enforcement Agency (NEA) how to use, care for, and maintain training for eight working dogs. The working dogs will eventually be used to sniff for drugs and explosives at Palau’s points of entry and elsewhere.

The course is expected to be around thirteen weeks long, and involve classroom training, followed by field work.

The Bellum K9 handlers include the owner of the company, Shane McNamara, as well as two senior trainers, one assistant-trainer, and one veterinarian.

“We’re here to give this program to Palau so that they can continue to sustain it . . . and to help [law enforcement] professionals do their jobs more efficiently,” Mr. McNamara said.

The handlers have described the training process as an “interactive dance” between the dogs and their trainers, which builds a bond between them, and focuses the drive of the dogs. They emphasized that one officer will be assigned to each dog, and, once trained, working dogs will only respond to the one who trained them.

However, they have expressed concern that unfamiliarity with the working-dog process may lead to problems, if the community is not made aware of it.

“It’s highly advisable that the public knows not to touch the working dogs, or interfere with the training of the dogs once we move into field training,” said Mr. McNamara. “People can watch from afar, but make sure you give the trainers and the dogs their space.”

The dogs are being kept in kennels at the NEA headquarters in Ngesekes, while a permanent kennel-facility is set to be constructed to house them by the Civic Action Team, also funded by the Department of Defense.

Currently, the handlers from Bellum K9 are working to put the dogs back on scent-detection and marking off areas to begin the course. The trainer and assistant-trainer see the dogs three to four times a day to feed them and conduct obedience-training and specialty-training.

“The dogs are already trained, but they’ve sat for months,” said Mr. McNamara. “We have to do continuation-training.”

The course will teach NEA personnel to handle the dogs for drug or bomb detection, clean their kennels, and check the health of their dogs.

Dr. Kristen Decina, who is in charge of the dogs’ medical well-being, says that she checks them at least once a day to ensure proper health. The funding currently provides for a year of medical care, with the possibility of the funding being extended to a second year.

Dr. Decina, who is an emergency doctor and veterinary surgeon, says that she hopes she can donate her time to the community to help with spays and neuters of community dogs, with the number of strays a growing problem for Palau.

The program, which was requested by the Palau National Government, has recently met with some backlash from parts of the community, mostly due to the location of the facility. While some land disputes currently remain a problem, the handlers believe that the community’s discomfort with the dogs will ease once the training is underway.

“Nothing like this program has ever been in Palau,” said Dr. Decina. “Of course, there will be some discomfort to begin with.” 

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