Honduras Unleashes Armed Forces’ First Canine Battalion To Fight Crime
By Dialogo July 16, 2015
The newest elite members of the Honduran Armed Forces have uncanny ability to sniff out contraband.
They're the 136 loyal, well-trained dogs that make up the country's First Canine Battalion of the Military Police for Law and Order, which has trained the canines to detect hidden drugs, currency, bombs, and firearms. The dogs have become experts unleashed to thwart the operations of criminal activity in the Central American nation.
Infantry Lieutenant Colonel José Marcos Ávila Irías, the leader of the innovative Canine Battalion, is pleased to have these strong, driven, allies in the fight against crime. He's particularly impressed by the olfactory abilities of dogs; their sense of smell is up to 100,000 times greater than that of humans, according to scientists. The part of the canine brain that processes smells is proportionately 40 times larger than that in human brains, and dogs have up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, while humans have about six million.
“With their olfactory capacity and their effectiveness in reducing search times, each dog carries out the work of 30 men,” says Lt. Col. Ávila. “We have increased our capacity to respond by working with them, and we will be able to do even more when the process is consolidated and law-enforcement operators rely more on the dogs’ services.”
Military canines detect drugs and weapons
The Military Police canines have quickly proven themselves to be valuable in the fight against crime.
The Honduran Armed Forces formed the Canine Battalion in December 2014. In May and June, the Military Police dogs detected 18 sacks of marijuana in a Tegucigalpa neighborhood, 132 kilos of cocaine in La Ceiba, and several firearms along the border Honduras shares with Guatemala.
In all, the canines are capable of tracing twelve different contradband scent tracks. The Military is also planning on training some dogs to detect the scents of injured victims and human remains, an ability which would be useful in rescue and recovery efforts during earthquakes and other natural disasters; additionally, they plan to increase its number of canines by the end of 2015.
“We will have a total of 180 dogs when we complete our acquisition process later this year,” Lt. Col. Ávila said. The dogs are being introduced in phases. The current group of 136 dogs vary in breeds between German and Dutch Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Terriers, and Belgian Malinois, a breed the U.S. Secret Service uses to guard the White House.
Utilizing the olfactory capabilities of canines
Troops deploy Military canines on actual missions only if they've demonstrated a success rate of at least 85 percent in sniffing out contraband during training, which lasts 16 weeks for the dogs and their human counterparts. The dogs are divided by their sniffing specialty: narcotics and currency, explosives, and weapons; in the coming months, a new pack will be trained that exclusively specializes in sniffing currency.
“Each team goes out to missions for periods of two weeks,” says Lt. Col. Ávila, a period after which the dog is allotted time to recover and be examined by a veterinarian. The Soldier-dog teams also train together between missions.
“The bond between the animal and his guide is fundamental,” Lt. Col. Ávila said. “They are a tight team, they work together. Each Soldier is committed to this partnership. Participation in this unit is not mandatory, but we ask that the participants be willing to engage for the period of the dog’s life. They need to have an affinity for their partners.”
Soldier Erick Josué Carías and his canine partner, Gladiator, are one such team. In a presentation before the press Carías said he has been with his white Golden Retriever since the dog's birth, and that they have traveled to different parts of the country together. The dog showed his capacities by finding knives and other weapons during a sweep of the National Penitentiary located in Támara, about 28 kilometers from the capital city.
Gladiator and the other Military dogs are on duty at the country’s borders, in the airports of Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, La Ceiba, and Roatán, and supporting customs authorities in the largest maritime port. They are key elements in the operations FUSINA carries out, operations the body of combined forces that has accrued a significant track record by seizing illegal narcotics, capturing prominent drug traffickers and members of extortion networks, and seizing their properties.
The Military acquires additional canines
Developing the Canine Battalion has been a cooperative effort extending across national boundaries. Colombian and Dominican Military trainers helped launch the Honduran Military's program, and both the Colombian and Dominican Militaries have collaborated in partnership with the U.S. forces to develop and support their own canine programs in previous years. In late March, the Honduran Ministry of National Defense announced the acquisition of 50 more dogs, brought from Colombia.
The dogs adapted to their new home quickly, learning words in the indigenous languages of Honduras. “We have a glossary for our own school, and they understand commands in Misquito and Garífuna,” Lt. Col. Ávila told Diálogo
. “We employ them to avoid distractions when the dogs are working or training.”
The dogs are intelligent, alert, energetic and — when they are not working, friendly. Gladiator, named so because of his survival skills, along with Captain, Panther, Milo, and the rest of the Canine Battalion members might be man's best friend, but they are proving themselves to be the criminals' worst enemies.
The First Canine Battalion strengthens law enforcement efforts and serves as a deterrent for delinquents. “Canines rarely fail at the assignments they have been given; where a human can be fooled or lied to, these trained dogs can’t be deceived,” said security analyst Billy Joya. “People who try to fool the system by transporting narcotics, weapons, or money illegally need to know these dogs are true Soldiers and what they do best is serve and protect.”