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A Second Calling for Retired CIA K9s

June 26, 2024

“I have found that when you are deeply troubled, there are things you get from the silent devoted companionship of a dog that you can get from no other source.” – Doris Day

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One year ago, CIA rolled out our first-ever K9 Wellbeing Program. The program gives officers a chance to take a break from work and spend time with Agency working dogs… who just so happen to be sweet and lovable Labrador Retrievers. We are pleased to report that the program has been mutually beneficial for the workforce and the Security Protective Service (SPS) K9s that take part.

Just look at some of our K9s on the CIA seal! How could they not bring a bit of joy to your day?

Cultivating A Culture of Wellbeing

For anyone who doesn’t know the Agency well, CIA has always been a hard-charging, can-do culture. No matter the directorate or job, or whether it’s located here or abroad, there’s no denying that officers in the line of duty have endured physical and mental stress. Add to that the burden of not being able to talk about work-related stressors with anyone outside of cleared spaces.

The Agency in recent years has begun weaving another thread into CIA culture to ensure we have a healthy, strong, and resilient workforce to carry out the mission—that of wellbeing. Progress is perhaps most easily seen walking past the Langley Field House, which is open 24/7 and bustling with activity even before the sun comes up. The health and fitness facility has become a staple in many officers’ daily routines.

With wellbeing in mind, SPS K9 Commander and Major Wesley’s handler proposed allowing employees to engage with retired security dogs to enhance employee wellbeing. It was an easy sell!

Launch of the K9 Wellbeing Program

Before the K9 Wellbeing Program officially launched, retired Major Wesley—an affectionate, brave, and curious black Labrador Retriever—attended events and visited offices across Headquarters, much to the delight of everyone who crossed his path. He and his handler made their rounds operating solely by word-of-mouth.

CIA Director William Burns stopping to pet a K9 in the halls of Headquarters.

Soon, employees inundated the Directorate of Support’s Office of Security with requests for their own K9 engagements to combat fatigue and burnout. The overwhelming interest in office visits sealed the deal for the program. Other K9s and their handlers joined the wellbeing initiative and, starting last June, officers have been able to book appointments with one of the wellbeing dogs.

The program was an instant hit. Reservations quickly filled up, and the K9 visits moved to the Langley Field House to give more officers a chance to participate. There, during the normal workday, attendees listen to K9 handlers talking about their retired dog’s career and interact with the pups.

Sniffing for Security: The First Line of Defense
Did you know that with all the advancements in technology to assist our efforts, there still isn’t a better option for detecting explosives than a dog? On a daily basis, the primary responsibility of CIA K9s is to detect potential explosives that threaten our people and facilities wherever they may be.

Win-Win for Workforce and K9s

Many officers have reported that spending time with the K9s has provided them emotional relief and improved their physical and mental wellbeing. After all, science has shown that interacting with a dog helps lower blood pressure and boosts the mood. Well, what’s in it for the pups, you ask? While they do love human pats and attention, there’s more to it.

The K9 Wellbeing Program is a supplement to the operational requirements of CIA’s K9 security unit. All of the bomb sniffing dogs at the Agency are carefully selected as young pups. Each goes on to work with one SPS handler for the next 8 or 9 years, the age at which all retire.

Tradition has it that on the day that a handler’s new K9 partner graduates from explosives detection training, their old K9 is relieved of duty. It’s a bittersweet time, reminiscing on all of those years living and working side-by-side, sometimes at scary locales in far-flung corners of the world. As a handler welcomes the new dog into their homes, the handler is also given the chance to provide their retired K9 a forever home. Most accept, of course. Human K9 officers and their four-legged partners become family, and it’s impossible to separate a team!

The loyal souls then spend their golden years as dogs do—playing fetch, snoozing, sniffing out snacks, and following their loved ones around the house.  

A retired CIA K9 gets a kiss.

Thanks to this Agency initiative, the K9 Wellbeing Program gives our retired working dogs a new mission, along with food and veterinary assistance to these furry heroes after their security service has ended. CIA is the first federal entity to care for its retired working dogs in this capacity. This new program is a huge help to handlers who have a retired K9 and an active-duty K9 living at home with their families.

The K9 Wellbeing Program has effectively improved workforce morale and gives back to the dedicated and hardworking K9s providing the service. They’ve earned it.

Get to Know the Pups

Without further ado, we’d like to introduce some of CIA’s first Wellbeing Program K9s.

Major Wesley
  • Age: 9
  • Job title: Retired Explosive Detection K9, Active Wellbeing K9
  • Favorite food: Carrots and Cucumbers
  • Favorite activity: Snuggling and rolling his eyes like he is in a deep sleep if his handler tries to get up. This good boy also loves to swim.
  • Favorite spot to be pet: Anywhere, PLEASE!
  • Favorite time of day: Nap and snack time.
  • Additional fun fact: Wesley is the face of CIA’s K9 Wellbeing Program.
  • Age: 12
  • Job title: Retired Explosive Detection K9, Active Wellbeing K9
  • Favorite food: Anything you want to share
  • Favorite activity: Sunbathing
  • Personality: My daddy says I’m a princess!
  • Quote: "I like people more than dogs because I’m moody."
  • Age: 9
  • Job title: Retired Explosive Detection K9, Active Wellbeing K9
  • Favorite food: Peanut Butter and Banana sandwiches
  • Favorite activity: Splashing around in creeks and rivers
  • Personality: As long as I am with Dad, anything goes!
  • Quote: "Is it time to eat yet?"
  • Additional fun fact: Dory has had surgery on both of her back legs, but you will hardly notice it with as active as she is.
  • Age: 9
  • Job title: Retired Explosive Detection K9, Active Wellbeing K9
  • Favorite food: Turkey, please!
  • Favorite activity: Sitting by the refrigerator waiting for someone to get ice out of the dispenser with the hope some will fall to the floor.
  • Personality: Eat, Sleep, Eat, Go for a walk. Repeat!
  • Quote: "My Dad calls everyone Bubba, but he assures me I am his number #1 Bubba!"
  • Fun fact: Diesel hates getting his feet wet in the grass but LOVES swimming in the pool!
  • Additional fun fact: Diesel and K9 Dory are littermates. Can you see the resemblance?
  • Age: 9
  • Job title: Retired Explosive Detection K9, Active Wellbeing K9
  • Favorite food: Apples and Bananas
  • Favorite activity: Eating is her #1 hobby. She also loves to lay in the sun and play in the water.
  • Personality: Sweet and happy!
  • Quote: "It sure would be ‘ruff’ without you."
  • Fun fact: Calliope came from the Puppies Behind Bars program in Danbury, Connecticut where they filmed the TV show "Orange is the New Black."
  • Additional fun fact: She likes going undercover in various disguises for some Halloween treats
  • Age: 11
  • Job title: Retired Explosive Detection K9, Active Wellbeing K9
  • Favorite food: Luke's eyes light up with unbeatable excitement whenever he crunches on his all-time favorite snack – crispy, delicious carrots!
  • Favorite activity: Nothing gets Luke's tail wagging faster than the prospect of going on an exhilarating walk, his absolute favorite adventure.
  • Personality: Luke, with his caring nature, will lay at your feet and rest his head on you – a tender gesture to let you know he's right there, sharing his warmth and love.
  • Fun fact: Initially trained as a companion dog for PTSD support, Luke found his calling as an expert in explosives detection.
  • Age: 9
  • Job title: Retired Explosive Detection K9, Active Wellbeing K9
  • Favorite food: All food is her favorite, but she loves to try to steal pizza
  • Favorite activity: Going for a walk, countertop surfing, or sniffing out explosives
  • Personality: She is sweet and driven
  • Quote: “If you leave food unattended, I will eat it.”
  • Fun Fact: Elsa was a television star on a morning show and in the 2015 Puppy Bowl
  • Additional fun fact: Elsa loves to work and being praised for her hard work.

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In case you missed it, tune in to “Driving a New Focus on Wellbeing at CIA” (The Langley Files, File 011) to hear more from CIA’s first Chief Wellbeing Officer and a longtime operations officer about how the Agency is focused on fostering mental and physical health and resiliency across the workforce.

CIA k9

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