Meet Ciro, TPSO’s new bomb-detection dog

Tuesday, Jan. 18
January 17, 2011
Houma businessman shoots wife, then kills himself
January 19, 2011
Tuesday, Jan. 18
January 17, 2011
Houma businessman shoots wife, then kills himself
January 19, 2011

Ciro sat on his hind legs, his tongue hanging slightly out his mouth and his eyes focused on the box in front of him.

In the warehouse of a Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Office substation on Capital Boulevard, the brown dog with a streak of black fur from tail to head sniffed around three boxes before he stopped, sat and stared.

His handler, a 24-year-old TPSO rookie and former U.S. Army military police officer, rewarded the Belgium Mallinois with a chew toy, an indicator to the newest member of TPSO’s K-9 unit that he won the game.

Ciro clenched his jaw around the cone chew toy and celebrated by running around in circles before eventually relinquishing the toy and restarting the game to search for another hidden box of ammo.

“It’s an amazing opportunity,” Deputy Lance LeBlanc said of the responsibility of handling the bomb-detection dog. “I mean, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me.”

Lt. Lance Simoneaux of the TPSO K-9 unit said LeBlanc was a natural fit because of his work in training explosive-detection dogs in the military.

“He’s still considered a rookie because he doesn’t have a year under his belt, but he was the only guy we had in-house that knew exactly what we were looking for,” he said.

The sheriff’s office has eight additional dogs in its K-9 unit, Simoneaux said. Six serve dual purposes, narcotics and patrol, two are strictly narcotics and work with the narcotics task force and one of the eight also serves as a cadaver dog.

Simoneaux joined TPSO a year and a half ago, but worked in K-9 units for the Assumption Parish Sheriff’s Office and Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office for more than nine years. Since he began work for Terrebonne, they have purchased all of their dogs from Worldwide Canine Inc., in Spring Branch, Texas, a suburb of San Antonio.

“The vendor actually sent me some video footage of [Ciro] searching some vehicles and I was very impressed,” Simoneaux said. “I dealt with the guy before and he gave the stamp of approval, so I knew it would be good. We went up there and he did a little presentation with him and that was it. There wasn’t no second thought about that was the one we wanted.”

The Office of Emergency Preparedness attained the grant used to pay for Ciro, who was purchased in June. Earl Eues, director of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said Ciro was purchased with a $10,000 grant.

After the BP oil spill, the Houma-Terrebonne Airport had increased activity as dignitaries, including President Barack Obama, flew into the area to experience the impact first-hand. With many requests for a bomb dog, TPSO had to borrow a dog from Lafourche Parish. Considering the nature of the oil industry and the amount of very important people flying into the area, the parish decided to purchase a dog of its own.

During Friday’s demonstration, Ciro found a hidden box of ammo three times. Twice, it was stashed in a random box in a lineup inside the warehouse.

The third time, the dog unexpectedly sat and stared at an officer’s right leg. The ammo was in his pocket.

When searching for the ammunition, the dog picked up on the scent of gunpowder. Simoneaux said Ciro is trained on 10 different odors, including TNT, C-4 explosives and an explosive gel.

“He’s got a real good on-and-off switch,” Simoneaux said. “You don’t have to worry about him going and attacking anybody.”

Although it may seem like a command-and-reward game for the 2-year-old dog, Ciro needed to prove to the sheriff’s office that they could trust his snout when searching for bombs. He’s done that, according to the Simoneaux.

“If he searches a vehicle that they think is suspected to have a bomb in it and if he walks around and he doesn’t sit, I’ll ride in the car,” the lieutenant said. “He’s real meticulous with his search.”

Simoneaux said the Mallinois typically matures from ages three to five, and the low-stress level his job entails should keep him working in bomb-detection capacity for 10 years.

“He’ll have a lot of gray before he retires,” Simoneaux said.

Ciro, the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Office new explosive-detection dog, searches for a hidden box of ammunition. The dog was purchased with a $10,000 grant obtained by the Office of Emergency Preparedness in response to increased dignitary activity at the Houma-Terrebonne Airport. ERIC BESSON