credit: photographer, Ritsuko Nagai.

Twelve officers from the Narcotics Enforcement Agency (NEA), the Bureau of Customs & Border Protection, and the Airport Division completed their two-and-a-half-month training course for handling K9 working dogs, launching a program intended to boost Palau’s ability to detect drugs and bombs at the borders.
The course, funded by the US Department of Defense, involved classroom training and field work to train the officers to work with their dogs. The course was overseen by a team of five dog-handling professionals from Bellum K9, LLC, a protection dog supply company based in the US.
Vice President Uduch Sengebau Senior said that the K9 program is “one of its kind” in the Micronesian region.
“It’s the first time that we’ve seen something like this,” Vice President Senior said at the Commencement Ceremony held last Friday, at the Division of Aircraft Rescue Fire Fighting (ARFF).
The eight working dogs, specially bred and trained to detect narcotics and explosive chemicals, were each trained alongside a designated officer. Throughout the duration of the course, the dogs were trained to bond with and obey their officer.
The new K9 program will be used for both border and domestic security, said NEA Director Ismael Aguon. The dogs will sniff for illegal drugs and explosive chemicals at Palau’s airport and seaports, but will also be used to detect narcotics in domestic drug busts. Director Aguon confirmed that the dogs will also be used to check incoming mail and cargo shipments, which is expected to have become the main means by which hard drugs like methamphetamine are smuggled into the country, now that commercial flights are suspended. Post Customs has said that five packages containing suspected meth were seized throughout 2020, all of them mailed from the US.
US Ambassador John Hennessey-Niland expressed confidence that the K9 program will quickly become the envy of the other Pacific island nations, and will “start to address a problem that is all too prevalent . . . in the United States and here in the Pacific, which is the negative impact of drugs on our families”.
“These [airport and seaports] are the main entryways for drugs and corruption,” said the US Ambassador, speaking to the NEA K9 handlers at the Commencement Ceremony. “And you will be on the front line.”
The Commencement Ceremony, which was open to the public, included a demonstration in which the new handlers showcased obedience exercises with their working dogs. The demonstration ended with a working dog detecting an explosive being kept in a sealed cardboard box, after which personnel from the Palau National Safety Office and Norwegian People’s Aid conducted a controlled detonation of the explosive.
Friday’s Ceremony also included special recognitions for several of the handlers, including Officer Anelize Emiliano, Palau’s first female K9 handler, and interns Humio Kebekol and Carson Olkeriil, who completed the handler course even though they are still in the process of becoming police officers.
Director Aguon emphasized that the program will prove to be much more reliable than prior K9 programs in Palau. The police force previously used a working dog for surveillance in Palau International Airport, but Director Aguon says that the handler trained with a different agency than that which initially trained the dog, leading to a lack of coordination. The Director said that having professionals from Bellum K9 here to oversee the program has made a drastic difference.
“We’re lucky to have people here who really care for the dogs,” Director Aguon said.
Many of the handlers from K9 will be leaving Palau once the program is fully underway. However, Dr. Kristen Decina, the lead veterinarian tasked with maintaining the health of the dogs, will be staying for an extended period of time, to continue to provide veterinary care for the dogs as well as to provide additional assistance to Palau’s local vets. Dr. Decina has already been assisting the Palau Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) with spays, neuters, and animal care services.
“Like any tool, our K9 team has to be well cared for and healthy for a lifetime to perform at such a high level,” said Dr. Decina. “It is also my goal to make veterinary care in Palau more accessible . . . to regular animal owners seeking health and care for their pets.”
The funding for the working dog program includes the construction of a permanent kennel facility to house the dogs, which is set to be built by the Civic Action Team and the Navy Seabees. While the original location intended for the facility was moved due to land issues, Director Aguon has said that they have identified an “ideal location” for the facility, which will be announced as soon as the proper permitting is completed.
Officers and working dogs who completed the training course include Officer Giovany Siliang with his working dog Boomer, Officer Moren Ringang with his working dog Joker, Officer Rull Debedebek with his working dog Gyuri, Officer Junior Sumor with his working dog Mare, Officer Rodrick Bausoch with his working dog Replay, Officer Anelize Emiliano with her working dog Keiko, Trainee Carson Olkeriil with his working dog Bolo, Trainee Humio Kebekol with his working dog Mex, Officer Ngeriuns Tabelual, Officer Beck’Lela-Ieb Tmetuchl, Officer Nicholas Aquino Jr., and Lieutenant Kenny Sengebau.

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