St Kitts’ Customs Canine Unit is now in full work mode, after members graduated during a ceremony to relocate the Customs and Excise Department?s Courier Service to Custom?s Headquarters, Bird Rock.

Also located at Bird Rock, the Canine Unit is staffed with two labrador retrievers as well as four handlers and adds to the Customs Department?s border security role for the Federation. The dogs were trained by Parris Nicholson, owner of Kanines on Patrol Services (KOPS), who runs kennels in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands and New Smyrna Beach, Florida. He said the canines are female sniffer dogs, named Amanda and Sarah who can detect narcotics, firearms and ammunitions. Mr. Nicholson informed they can be stationed at ports of entry including airports, seaports and ferry terminals and other locations that facilitate trade such as post offices. He explained that sniffer dogs can work in any area where there is the potential for the importation of the mentioned illegal substances.

Mr. Nicholson was also responsible for training the four handlers who are working with the dogs. Customs Officers Kevin Morton, Ozbert France, Mychail Daniel and Eric Thompson underwent a month?s training with the canines during which they were taught how to work with the animals and how to take care of them. Mr. Nicholson explained that partnering with dogs is a very demanding task.

He said that first of all, the handler has to have an interest in working with dogs because it can be a twenty-four hour job, seven days a week. He explained that although the handlers cannot take the dogs to their homes. They have to come in to work early and leave late to take care of the canines. Taking care of the dogs would include having to bathe, groom, feed, water and walk them. Handlers also have to ensure that the dogs are in good health and have regular veterinary checkups.

The owner of KOPS also explained that having dogs on staff increases the time efficiency of the department. He explained that it can take Amanda and Sarah 15 minutes to do what it would take several customs officers a whole day, when it comes to locating firearms and narcotics. While dogs simply sniff the item, officers have to open and unpack each one individually.

It was emphasized that although Amanda and Sarah are not trained to attack, it was necessary to ask the handlers? permission before attempting to pet them because their primary purpose in the Federation is work. Mr. Nicholson stressed that the dogs belong to the Federation and various organizations can apply and follow the appropriate procedures to have the handlers and dogs do demonstrations. He emphasized that the dogs are part of the community and so would be gradually introduced to society.

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