Bizsu doesn’t like bicyclists.
But the German shepherd-malinois mix does like hunting for bombs, even though she doesn’t know that’s what they are or the danger they pose.
Every morning before the S. James Foxman Justice Center swings open its doors, deputy Randy Carlson and Bizsu will check the building for bombs.
Bizsu will scamper, run and leap, her black nose taking lead as she sniffs benches, tables and entire courtrooms for any chemical scent signaling the presence of a bomb. The dog is a flash of fur as she bounds over a short wooden wall dividing a jury box from the courtroom. She stretches her brown and black body on her hind legs as she sniffs toward a light on the wall.
“She doesn’t know what you’re looking for,” Carlson said. “She doesn’t know that she’s actually looking for a bomb, explosives, something that could kill her or me or a bunch of people.”
The 3-year-old dog finds what she’s looking for, a sausage-sized cylinder of explosives used for training and hidden in a tissue box. Bizsu sits down near the box. She knows that once she finds the bomb she will get her plaything, a “Kong” which looks like three rubber balls fused together on a rope.
“She’s just looking for her toy,” Carlson said. “She’s like a 3-year old (child). You have to make everything happy and fun. It’s a game to her. If she actually knew what she was looking for, she might not do it.”
Bizsu is one of four Volusia County Sheriff’s Office bomb dogs, said Carlson, an explosives detection K-9 handler. Two other bomb dogs are assigned to Daytona Beach International Airport and another is stationed at the Volusia County Courthouse in DeLand.
The bomb dogs are among 20 Sheriff’s Office K-9s assigned to various tasks, including three drug dogs and 13 others, agency spokesman Andrew Gant said. The unit has a yearly budget of $3,000 for food and kennels but other expenses, like vet bills, come from other parts of the budget. A yearly figure was not available.
The Flagler County Sheriff’s Office does not have a K-9 based at the Kim C. Hammond Justice Center in Bunnell. But the agency has five K-9s assigned to their handlers. One is a bomb dog and the other four are dual purpose for narcotics detection and apprehension, according to Flagler sheriff’s spokeswoman Anna Hackett.
The Volusia County Sheriff’s Office has been called out to 58 reports of explosive devices so far in 2018. There were 148 such calls in each 2017 and 2016 and 85 in 2015, Gant wrote. A bomb dog responds to many but not all the calls about explosive devices, depending if needed.
The bomb dogs and their handlers can be called away from their posts, whether airport or courthouse, if they are needed elsewhere, Carlson said.
Bizsu weighs in at 60 pounds, about average for a female German shepherd.
“She’s a small dog. She’s very sweet, got a great temperament,” Carlson said. “She hates people on bicycles, but she’s a good dog. She’s not very aggressive — with the exception of people on bikes.”
Since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the demand for bomb dogs has skyrocketed, said Bill Heiser, president of Southern Coast K-9, which trains police dogs in New Smyrna Beach.
The dogs undergo three months of training and then another four to six weeks with the handler. A typical bomb dog will cost $9,500 to $12,000, he said.
The dogs are trained to smell not just the traditional explosives but also home-made bombs.
How do you know a bomb dog has the right stuff?
“A dog that literally will search all day for his toy,” Heiser said. “He is so much focused on that toy and how much he enjoys that interaction with the handler, the playing. He’d rather go play than he would eat.”
That fits Bizsu. Once she finds the bomb she partakes in a spirited tug of war with Carlson over her toy.
Besides checking the Justice Center, Bizsu and Carlson also scan the Courthouse Annex on City Island every day for bombs. But they are based at the Justice Center on North Ridgewood Avenue. Bizsu has been there for about a year and she remained there after her previous handler retired. She was assigned to Carlson in February.
And like any K9 handler, Carlson takes Bizsu home. That didn’t go over well at first with the family’s other dog, a German shepherd named Nero who had been with the family for about seven years.
Nero was an aspiring police dog that didn’t make the cut as a bite dog, those trained to apprehend suspects. Carlson is not sure why. Maybe Nero wouldn’t bite or would bite too much.
Carlson said Nero is twice Bizsu’s size and would growl at her if she came too close when he was with his toys.
Bizsu, though, has figured out a workaround. She will pick up one of her toys and drop it conspicuously before Nero who will then let go of his toy to get hers. Bizsu then will take Nero’s toy.
Carlson said that in the 20 years he has been a member of the Sheriff’s Office bomb squad no explosives have been found at the Justice Center.
“There’s been plenty of suspicious packages that turned out to be nothing,” he said.
But better to check on something that appears out of place then assume it’s nothing, he said.
“If you see something, say something,” Carlson said. “It’s no skin off our back to call her out, call me out and come check something out.”
As for himself, Carlson said he has wanted to work on the bomb squad since he was a kid playing with GI Joes. It’s not like the movies, though, where a clock ticks down to zero as a red light flashes while the bomb expert holds a pair of wire cutters as he or she stares at a red wire and a blue wire and wonders which to cut to disarm the bomb.
“That’s all movie stuff,” Carlson said. “The bottom line is you’re only going to screw up once and you’re not going to feel it so … If you’re right then hey great and if you’re wrong, it’s not your problem anymore.”
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