Eight drug and bomb-detecting working dogs, which were transferred from their temporary shelter at Camp Katuu to the Narcotics Enforcement Agency (NEA) headquarters in Ngesekes this past Saturday, have drawn complaints from neighborhood residents, who think that the dogs are an unwelcome disturbance.
The Belau National Museum (BNM), which sits next to the NEA headquarters where a permanent kennel facility to house the dogs is set to be built, has called the presence of the dogs a “nuisance”, and also brought up concerns about the conditions of the dogs’ housing, insisting that they “should have sufficient grounds”.
However, members of NEA, as well as the dog-handlers who accompanied the dogs from the USA, claim that these complaints are fueled by misunderstanding and misinformation.
The military working-dog program is 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. Trainers from Bellum K9, LLC, a protection dog supply company, have been contracted by the US Department of Defense to train personnel from the NEA to properly handle the working-dogs, which will eventually be used to sniff out illegal substances entering Palau.
The funding for the program provides for the dogs themselves, as well as twelve weeks of handler training, a year of veterinarian medical support, two years of dog food, and the construction of the kennel facility, which will be built with the help of the Civic Action Team and the eight Navy Seabee personnel. The team is currently waiting on the proper permits before construction begins, and the dogs are currently sheltered in kennels—or cages—beside the NEA headquarters.
But a combination of community discomfort and land disputes has led to an unwelcome reception.
The administration of the BNM has cited the odor and barking from the temporary shelter as neighborhood disturbances. The BNM also disputes the legal right of the government to build the facility on the property, which it claims is set aside for the Museum and the Botanical Gardens.
A petition circulating among the residents of Ngesekes has garnered 100 signatures in protest.
“You need to think of us and our children and our lives first, before building this facility,” said BNM Director Olympia E. Morei. She also said that the construction of any such facility would result in a public hearing.
According to Director Morei, the BNM and the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) signed an MoU in 2017, agreeing that the land on which the kennel facility would be built could be used by the MOJ for a temporary period of two years. The construction of a permanent facility would overstep this agreement, she says.
The NEA, however, argues that both the NEA and the BNM are government programs, and as such are both under the same jurisdiction. “We’re both government, we should be helping each other,” said NEA Officer Miya Nabeyama, stressing that drugs are a problem in Palau which needs to be addressed.
NEA Director Ismael Aguon also commented that efforts are being made by the NEA to address the community’s concerns about the temporary housing and the construction of the facility. The housing has also drawn a slew of complaints regarding the welfare of the dogs, specifically regarding the kennels in which they are caged.
However, the Bellum K9, LLC team which was brought in to train the local handlers asserts that these complaints are based on an unfamiliarity with proper K9 handling. The team includes five dog-handling professionals, including the owner of Bellum K9, two senior trainers, one handler, and one lead veterinarian.
The team stresses that kennel-housing is the only appropriate shelter for working-dogs.
“It may be jarring to see the dogs [in cages], but military working dogs around the world are housed in kennels,” said Dr. Kristen Decina, the lead veterinarian tasked with maintaining the dogs’ health. The kennels which are sheltering the K9 dogs are based on the standards of the US Air Force’s Department of Defense.
“A military working dog is a tool, not a pet,” Dr. Decina added, explaining that they are specially bred to have a very high drive, and would thus not function well in a household environment.
Dr. Decina also addressed community concerns that the dogs are not being spayed or neutered by explaining that a strict regulation of the dogs’ activities by their trainers are preventing this from being a problem, and that the K9 dogs and the other dogs in the community should have no interaction. She also said that military dogs are never spayed or neutered because it affects the drive which makes them effective in detecting drugs and chemicals.
Mr. Shane McNamara, owner of Bellum K9, said that the disturbing odor is a temporary problem, which should end with the construction of the facility.
According to Mr. McNamara, the smell arises from having to manually clean the kennels and throw away the dog feces. But the permanent facility, he said, will be designed to include drains which tie into the Koror sewer system, which will allow them to spray the kennels out to minimize the odor.
“The sooner we can build this facility, the sooner the smell goes away,” said Mr. McNamara.
The team is scheduled to provide a ten-to-thirteen-week training course for NEA law enforcement personnel, which will include classroom training and field-work with the dogs. According to Mr. McNamara, the team will teach the NEA officers how to “use the dogs, care for the dogs, and maintain the training that’s been provided for the dogs”.

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