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The Recruit(s): K9 Graduation Day

Freya, Indigo, and Heide during the graduation ceremony

It’s been four months of intense training for our newest K9 recruits, but all of that hard work has finally paid off. The CIA Fall 2017 “Puppy Class” is officially graduating!

In order to graduate, the pups and handlers first had to pass two national certification tests: one administered by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) and another run by the United States Police Canine Association (USPCA). These tests are the gold standard for explosive detection dog certification.

CIA K9s Nicole, Indigo, and Freya all passed their ATF and USPCA certification tests; Freya and her handler were also awarded the class’s “Top Dog Award” for scoring 298.68 out of a possible 300 points on her USPCA test. Heide, who belongs to Frederick County Fire Marshal in Virginia, aced her certifications as well.

Freya playing with her graduation gifts after the ceremony

Nicole getting belly rubs from the handlers and trainers during the graduation ceremony

Harry—who joined the class in week 5 after Lulu, the now infamous Labrador Retriever, left the program—had a lot of catching up to do in order to graduate with the class. We’re thrilled to report that he passed all of his certification tests and has officially graduated! Harry, who shares a home with his buddy Lulu, is a proud member of the Fairfax County Police Department.

Harry peeking out from behind his handler’s legs during the graduation ceremony

Unfortunately, there was one dog that did not graduate.

Due to circumstances beyond his control, Suni’s prospective handler was unable to complete the fall 2017 class, which also meant Suni couldn’t finish the second part of her training. Suni’s puppy raisers (the family that raised her until she was one and a half years old) requested that they be allowed to adopt her if for any reason she didn’t complete the program. There were no other CIA K9 handlers that currently needed a new K9 partner, so the decision was made to allow Suni’s puppy raisers to adopt her. Suni is now home with her original family, who was thrilled to get her back! We all miss the smart, silly, sassy Labrador, but we’re so happy that she gets to live out her life in such a wonderful, loving home.

Suni romping in the grass during her initial evaluations at Susquehanna Service Dogs

Passing the Torch:

For CIA K9 handlers, graduation day is often bittersweet. This year was no exception.

Each of the three CIA handlers in the fall 2017 “puppy class” had a current K9 partner. Tradition has it that on the day their new K9 partner graduates, their old K9 partner retires.

Osmond, one of the retiring CIA K9s, looks out at the crowd from the podium during the ceremony

Most of our dogs work for about 7-8 years. We usually get them when they are between a year to a year and a half old, and we retire the dogs no later than age nine. The dogs begin living with their human partners from the first day the handlers report to class.

After working with them seven days a week for eight years, it’s pretty hard to separate a team. Just about all of our dogs retire with their handlers and their families. If a handler cannot adopt their retiring dog due to a family situation or other reasons, then the option is given to another handler in the K9 unit. Since CIA’s K9 officers love these animals so much, you will hardly ever hear of a dog retiring outside of the unit.

All three retiring CIA K9s are being adopted by their current handlers.

Osmond, Lucy, and Gears waiting for the retirement portion of the ceremony to begin

Because the retired K9s are no longer employed by the Agency, their veterinary care can no longer be covered by the government. Medical care and other assistance is offered to our veteran dogs by a program called Paws of Honor, a non-profit that was started by one of the local veterinary practices. Paws of Honor helps provide retired working dogs with necessary medical care, as well as routine physicals and other items that allow us to show our gratitude to these wonderful animals that have given so much of their life to protecting ours.

Lucy and Osmond at the podium

Even though the handlers are adopting their retiring dogs, knowing this is the last day you’ll be working side-by-side with your partner of eight years is difficult for every handler. They’re excited to begin working with their new K9 partners, but they’ll nonetheless miss working alongside their old partners every day.

Here are the three CIA K9s retiring this fall, dogs who have dedicated their lives to serving and protecting this country.

* * * * *

K9 Gears:

K9 Gears during the ceremony

Gears, an eight and a half year old black Labrador Retriever with greying cheeks, was in the very first class that graduated from the CIA Training Center. Before CIA had its own K9 training program, our dogs were trained at ATF. Gears spent over 750 days overseas during his career. Gears, who loves the water, has swum in over 30 states, as well as the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Even in retirement, Gears has no problem swimming circles around his new protégé and housemate, K9 Nicole.

* * * * *

K9 Lucy:

K9 Lucy during the ceremony

Lucy, a nine year old black Labrador Retriever, was originally an Ambassador Dog for Puppies Behind Bars. She spent the first three years of her life traveling around the country helping to promote the Puppies Behind Bars program, before coming to CIA and becoming an Explosive Detection K9. Lucy has worked in challenging locations overseas six times, helping to protect lives, properties, and buildings for us. Unlike her K9 colleague Gears, Lucy hates the water, especially baths. Lucy shares her home with her new pal, K9 Indigo, and the two love to play and roughhouse together.

* * * * *

K9 Osmond:

K9 Osmond during the ceremony

Osmond—a nine year old golden-hued Labrador Retriever with a greying face—was one of the last CIA dogs to graduate from the ATF training program, just prior to CIA starting its own training center. Osmond has won numerous K9 Explosive Detection awards over the years, and he has served overseas many times. Osmond is a silly, sweet, loyal dog who is excited to share his home with several four-legged friends, including his newest buddy, K9 Freya.

* * * * *

During the graduation ceremony, the handlers and their retiring dogs were presented with a CIA plaque and shadowbox containing photos, their badge, and other mementos in honor of their service to this country.

The retired dogs sat quietly, heads held high, a wise calm much different than the boisterous puppy antics displayed by the younger, soon-to-be K9 graduates. The crowd, made up of family, friends, and colleagues – all those who made the K9 program possible – cheered for the veteran dogs as they were honored for their service.

Osmond and Gears with their handlers, just before the new graduates were brought out.

At the end of the ceremony, just before the new graduates received their official graduation certificates, the veteran dogs and their handlers made their way to the back of the room, where the handlers changed leashes from their old partners to their new: a passing of the torch to the next generation of CIA explosive detection K9s.

If you missed any of the articles in this series, you can always read them from the beginning by visiting “Follow CIA’s New Puppy Class!” main page, where we chronicled the puppies’ progress throughout their training.

Posted: Dec 07, 2017 06:48 PM
Last Updated: Dec 12, 2017 03:00 PM