Ms. Ladee Liberty will sniff out explosive devices
Everything to her is a game. So, we have to keep it fun.
— Master Deputy Will Harner, Ladee’s handler
One of the newest Fauquier County Sheriff’s Office members weighs just 46 pounds and has a nose for danger.
Ms. Ladee Liberty, a German shorthaired pointer, will work with Master Deputy Will Harner as an explosives detection team. “Ladee” will search for bombs, firearms and spent ammunition, along with conducting pre-event sweeps of Great Meadow and other large venues, Deputy Harner explained Wednesday.
“She’ll be trained to find everything from black powder to dynamite to C-4,” he added. “If somebody disposes of a firearm, she can help find it. She can help find shell casings.”
Ladee and Deputy Harner will complete six weeks of specialized training at Professional Canine Services in Culpeper before they hit the streets as one of four teams in the sheriff’s K-9 unit.
A 17-year veteran of the office, Deputy Harner previously worked with two German shepherd partners, cross-trained to detect drugs and to run down criminal suspects.
Making the transition from aggressive dogs twice Ladee’s size has presented a challenge, he admitted. But, the deputy said he has adjusted to his new, brains-over-brawn partner.
“At first, this just didn’t feel right,” said the strapping deputy, accustomed to a 90-pound German shepherd pulling at his lead.
With a black head and a black-and-white speckled torso, Ladee glides across the turf with ease and confidence while playing ball behind the sheriff’s office in Warrenton. Bred to hunt birds, Ladee in coming weeks will learn to abandon her instinctive point in favor of a sit-and-stare pose when she detects explosives, Deputy Harner explained.
She constantly checks the surroundings and already demonstrates a strong desire to please her handler, who picked her up last month from Shallow Creek Kennels near Pittsburgh. The sheriff’s office has made previous purchases from Shallow Creek, which specializes in carefully-bred canines for law enforcement.
Those dogs command top dollar. The sheriff’s office paid $6,500 for Ladee, with the Warrenton Kennel Club donating $3,000 toward the purchase.
Shallow Creek owner John Brannon travels to Europe and “hand selects” each dog, said his daughter Maddie Brannon, a trainer with the family business, founded in 2004.
“He checks for temperament, intelligence and health, making sure there are no issues, such as dysplasia,” Ms. Brannon added. “We don’t sell any puppies. All of our dogs are a year to 24 months old, so we know they’re sound.”
The kennel last year sold 400 dogs to law enforcement agencies.
Ladee and Deputy Harner train four hours a day in Culpeper, where they had completed their eighth day Wednesday.
“Everything to her is a game,” he said of the 18-month-old dog from Holland. “So, we have to keep it fun.”
That means playing ball with her at home, where Ladee lives with Deputy Harner, his wife and their son.
“Right now, she’s really clinging to me,” he said.
They work constantly on the regimen of “Detect, Indicate and Alert.”
Much of Ladee’s training focuses on detecting nitrate, a common element in a range of explosives.
Depending on conditions, she can detect a trace of the element 30 feet away.
But, the demanding work means that bomb-sniffing dogs typically must take breaks after 20 minutes and spend that amount of time resting before returning to the task, Deputy Harner explained.
It starts with a simple command: “Let’s go! Find you boom-boom!”