Happy news about animals
Freesia is not only soft, friendly, pretty and a good kisser, but she is also a very smart worker.
Freesia is one of two dogs with the Vermont State Police Explosives Detection K-9 units. She lives and works every day with her handler, Trooper Robert Lucas, a certified bomb technician, out of the Middlesex barracks.
They are both members of the State Police Bomb Squad.
“Freesia and I work as a team,” Lucas said Monday at the State House, while giving a demonstration. “She doesn’t go anywhere I don’t go; she’s not a sacrificial lamb.”
A purebred three-and-a-half year old black Labrador retriever, Freesia was originally bred to work as a guide dog for the blind, but her energy level and curiosity made her a better candidate for the job of sniffing out explosives. Freesia was “excused” from Guiding Eyes for the Blind and referred to the Connecticut State Police for evaluation.
Vermont State Police purchased Freesia from Guiding Eyes for the Blind for $1,800 and began training with the Connecticut State Police at no charge through the New England State Police Compact the following January. The Compact allows interstate agencies to assist and augment special teams.
Trained to detect 24 different odors that can be used in approximately 19,000 different types of explosives, Freesia only gets fed when she works. That means twice daily training sessions in which Lucas hand-feeds her 30-60 times a day.
Freesia and Lucas have worked all over Vermont on dignitary and security sweeps, search warrant executions and evidence recovery operations. They are also on a list to provide help to the Massachusetts and the New Hampshire State Police.
Ammunition, firearms, black powder, C-4, detonation cord, dynamite, fireworks, liquid explosives, pyrodex and TNT are just a few of the substances Freesia’s nose can detect.
A trooper in every right, Freesia sports her Vermont State Police badge that hangs off her collar and is at home at the Middlesex barracks where she roams freely. She depends on her partner (the one with the thumbs) to keep her official State Police photo identification card inside his own wallet (2’4″, 54 lbs., issued 1/25/06).
Her food and vet bills are covered as long as she is in service to the State Police.
Lucas, sporting a dog kibble pouch that hangs over the handle of his gun, works with Freesia using commands like: “Let’s work,” “Seek,” “Show me,” and “Take a break.”
When strangers approach her, Freesia greets, licks and rolls over for them.
Freesia is also a valued member of Lucas’ family. His wife, baby and 13-year-old golden retriever count Freesia among their pack. Because of the need to train twice a day, Freesia even goes on vacation with the family.
Lucas and Freesia love to show people their moves.
Always sniffing, the shortest trooper pays close attention to her master as he guides her across the Statehouse steps, using his hand and voice as signals. When she detects something, Freesia sits and doesn’t budge, even if Lucas tugs on her leash. When he says: “Show me,” Freesia uses her nose to point to the origin of the smell. Lucas rewards her good work with three pieces of kibble and an uncharacteristic, high-pitched response of: “Good.”
When the pair gives demonstrations to groups of children, they use it as an opportunity to teach about dog safety.
“She’s a great ambassador,” Lucas said.
Freesia is a tool of the Vermont State Police Bomb Squad. Like X-ray, bomb suits or robots, Freesia’s nose, which is 400 times more sensitive than a human nose, is a fine-tuned detector.
“If she commits to something, I’ll be the first one on the scene to evaluate what it is,” Lucas explained.
Freesia waits while Lucas puts out samples of explosives throughout the Statehouse foyer. While seeking, Freesia goes up on two legs to get her nose closer to the bottom of the large painting of former Gov. Howard Dean.
Trained by the Connecticut State Police for three months (she was joined by Lucas after the first month), Freesia and Lucas return there every three months for evaluation and annual re-certification. Once Freesia retires – the approximate length of career is five-to-seven years – she will be presented with the trophy “Golden Bowl” and continue to live with Lucas and his family.
Lucas and Freesia are trained to search perimeters, buildings, vehicles, stadiums, airports and open-air areas.
State Police have used K-9 units since the first pair of bloodhounds were gifted to the state from Massachusetts State Police back in 1953. But K-9s Freesia and Oak are the first dogs on the Bomb Squad.
Freesia’s counterpart, K-9 Oak, lives and works with his handler, Trooper William Sweeny, out of the St. Albans barracks. Oak, a black Lab, also came from the Guiding Eyes for the Blind and is the same age as Freesia.
Lucas said Freesia’s size is an asset when trying to maneuver through train cars and tight places. She also has the stamina to withstand hours of work, although the work is broken into approximately 25-minute sessions.
German Shepherds make good K-9 units for general police work and are trained to bite, bark, growl, protect, track and run, for which their large size is an asset. Labradors are slower-paced, which makes them good for rescue and for search and recovery, according to Lucas.
“Once we locate something, her job is pretty much done,” Lucas said.
Freesia rides with Lucas in his cruiser and stays with him during his shift. She doesn’t speak very often, except an occasional bark at a dog in a passing car in an apparent effort to show off her trooper status, Lucas said.