COVID-19 pandemic He played a major role in the global supply chain impasse over the past 18 months that has disrupted trade and fueled the cost of living crisis around the world. And no pipeline seems to have escaped its influence. After years of trying to raise awareness about the shortage of dogs with the genetic, physical and emotional traits needed to serve as bomb-sniffing canines in the United States, experts say pandemic-related disorders have further complicated the situation.
The United States sources 85 to 90 percent of its scouting canines from abroad, mainly from European countries such as Germany and the Netherlands. The dogs receive advanced training in a number of sub-disciplines, including bomb and narcotics detection and search and rescue. But breeding, genetics, environment, and training during early life are all critical factors in producing dogs with mental and physical characteristics to protect them in work and enable a good quality of life.
“Canine noses are the best technology we have for locating explosives, so we need a consistent, high-quality source for dogs,” says Sheila Goff, vice president of government relations for the American Kennel Club. “We were talking about, ‘Well, what if there’s a global crisis or geopolitical issues, we can’t get all these dogs that we’re importing from Europe,’ and then it happened.”
In congressional testimony in March 2016, Cindy Otto, executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center at the University of Pennsylvania, warned the Senate Homeland Security Committee about these risks. “By outsourcing national security requirements, we give up control over the type of dogs, the health of dogs, and the early training of dogs,” she said at the time. “We are also at risk of supply disruptions due to politics, disasters or disease.”
Today, it says it is seeing progress toward increasing the domestic supply of detection dogs in the United States. Expanded federal contracts for projects at Johns Hopkins Advanced Physics Laboratory, Auburn University, Gallant Technologies, K2 Solutions, and others aim to develop new technologies and procedures to support a larger local detection dog breeding network. Programs such as the American Kennel Club’s “National Puppy Program” educate current American breeders about the requirements and standards for focusing specifically on detection dogs. But, she adds, progress has been incremental and will take years of ground-breaking work to bear fruit.
“I wish we had come so far, but the pandemic has certainly slowed down research, slowed down all programs,” Otto told WIRED. “It has limited the influx of dogs from abroad and has slowed progress in this country to find replacements – it hit us all.”
Last month, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a nearly 100-page report about working dogs and the need for federal agencies to better protect their health and wellness. GOA says that as of February, the US federal government had approximately 5,100 working dogs, including detection dogs, across three federal agencies. Another 420 dogs, the GAO report says, “served the federal government in 24 programs run by contractors in eight departments and two independent agencies.”