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Ruff Life — A Day in the Life of a Canine Officer

July 9, 2019

Meet Port Police Department Officer Bruce Midkiff and canine officer Bella, who together work to make Sea-Tac Airport a safer place for travelers, guests, and employees. The dynamic duo has been working together for four years and spend nearly every waking minute together. When they are on the clock, Bella, a German short-haired pointer, and Officer Midkiff patrol the terminal at Sea-Tac. When they are off the clock, Bella is part of the Midkiff family. Read on to learn what a typical day looks like for both Bruce and Bella.

Officer Midkiff and Bella

7:00 a.m. Rise and shine 

Midkiff: It’s a work day for Bella and I so we’re up by 7:00 a.m. to start the day. We need to be in the POSPD office at Sea-Tac by 9 a.m. for a 12-hour shift, so I get up, make breakfast for myself and make sure Bella gets fed so we both have energy to power through the day. We work 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. four days on, three days off, followed by three days on, four days off so our days are lengthy, but we have some long weekends to make up for it. Bella gets up and hangs out with the rest of the pups for a few minutes and I make sure she gets outside before we hit the road. She’s high energy so she needs to run around a little bit before riding with me in the car on our commute for work.

Bella: Yawn — and I’m up! Iz it time to play? Oh wait. Fooooodddddd. Ohhhh. Time to run outside. I love the fresh air. Oh wait! It’s time to go to work with dad.

9:00 a.m. Get to work 

Midkiff: After driving the 25 miles between our home in Sammamish to Sea-Tac Airport we’re ready to get to work. The 11 other canine officers come in between 5:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. and work 12 hour shifts to ensure full coverage during regular traveling hours at the airport. Once we get into work I look at my calendar and see what’s on the agenda for the day. Usually it’s a mix of canine patrols, training with Bella and other canine officers, as well as meetings and administrative tasks.

Bella: Wut air we doin today???! I can’t wait to get to work!


Officers Bella and Midkiff on patrol

10 a.m. Cargo sweep

Midkiff: This morning we’re doing a cargo sweep on one of the cargo planes. That means Bella and I, along with some of the other canine teams, will check out the aircraft before it is cleared for takeoff and she’ll sniff around to clear the plane of any explosives. Bella is an expert in explosives detection and was trained at the Canine Training Facility at Lackland Airforce Base in San Antonio, Texas. Like eight other canine officers on the force, Bella is trained to sniff stationary objects. Each day we perform searches in and around the airport — in the terminal and cargo facilities, on aircraft, and stationary luggage. Today we’re searching 18 pallets of produce on the cargo plane. After a thorough search, everything looks clear so we’re good to go.

Bella: Excited to sniff around! So many smells! Snifff. Snifff. 

12:00 p.m. Lunch break

Midkiff: Bella and I grab a quick lunch before we move on to the next task on our list.

Bella: I’ve been smelling food all morning but I’m a good dog so I did not eat any. Soooo hungry!!!!!!!!! Where iz MY fooood? Please please please bring it NOW!

1:00 p.m. Canine retirement

Midkiff: We’re off to celebrate Port of Seattle Police Department canine Milo’s retirement from the department. Milo is a nine-year-old black lab who has been with the department since 2012. He’ll be adopted by his handler, Sergeant Chris Lewis and I hear there are some long walks, chasing sticks, and vacations in his future. We’ll sure miss him at the department! There’s even a bacon-wrapped cake just for Milo. He’s all over that cake! 

Bella: I love Milo. He’s a good dawwg. Oh wait. Bacon cake? Save some for meee!!

Canine officer Milo stares at the bacon cake

2:00 p.m. Training time!

Midkiff: It’s training time. A big portion of every canine officer’s day is spent training. During training, officers set up scenarios that allow the canines to practice searching for and locating potential explosives.  A training “problem” could take a dog anywhere from three minutes to 50 minutes to solve. A lot of preparation is involved to get the training aids set up in a given space, which could be anywhere in the terminal, cargo facility, or on an aircraft. The training aids must be set up and sit at least 30 minutes to allow an odor to release for the dogs to track. Today we have a training for the dogs to run through set up on an aircraft on loan from one of our airline partners. No passengers are on board; it’s just being used for training right now. It took Bella 15 minutes to locate the explosives and now that we’ve had a turn we watch the other dogs run through the “problem.” 

Bella: Werk werk werk! Where is it? Where is it? I found it! I found it! Oh a treat! Goody!

4:00 p.m. Training assist

Midkiff: I’m off to help out with the Port’s Canine Decoy program which allows our Air scent-trained dogs to practice on volunteers who walk through the airport carrying luggage. Air Scent-trained dogs are trained to detect odors on a moving target; they search whatever moves for explosives. On Wednesdays, all dogs are on the schedule. Since Bella is trained to sniff stationary objects but  not to search moving objects like the volunteers who participate in our  canine decoy program, she doesn’t need to be on site for the training activity. She’s currently taking a nap in one of the police cruisers parked on the Departures drive. (It’s a ruff life.) For dogs, actively sniffing like they do when they are working is a lot of work and physically exhausting. For humans, it’s like breathing really hard for a long period of time. So Bella and the other working canines need time to relax and recover so they can be ready for whatever the job throws at them next. Other times when we are in meetings and doing other activities where they aren’t needed, they can rest in kennels located in the police department offices. 

Bella: ZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Yawwwwwn … 

5:00 p.m. More training practice

Midkiff: After helping with the Decoy training, it’s time for Bella to get some more training time in. We bring the dogs in and practice in the terminal by hiding a piece of luggage for Bella to track for explosives. She sniffs behind empty ticket counters and check-in monitors until she is able to track it down — this time it takes about five minutes. Time for her reward — a green squeaky ball. The ball is essentially Bella’s paycheck for successfully locating the training aid. We keep our dogs’ rewards consistent, so they know what to expect.

Bella: Searching, searching, searching … So many smellz … Oh wait. Getting warmer…there it is! Got it. Ohhhh my toy!!! Yaaaay!

6:00 p.m. Canine patrol

Midriff: Bella and I spend some time patrolling the Rental Car Facility. She sniffs around and searches the area, mostly acting as a visible deterrent. We also patrol the terminals, light rail station, cargo facilities, and other areas on any given day.

Bella: Time to get out and walk around. Snifffff … Nothing smells out of the ordinary.

8:00 p.m. Paperwork and wrapping up the day

Midkiff: Our day is wrapping up and it’s time to input information from the day into the computer system for tracking.

Bella: Resting now …  it’s been a lonnnng day.

9:30 p.m. home!

Midkiff: We made it home after a long day. Bella is all tired out so she takes herself upstairs and puts herself to bed.

Bella: Yawn. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Watch other canine officers practice in the terminal in a Facebook video.

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