Bomb sniffing dogs key to spotting threats to Bay Area

- Terrorist bombings in Belgium have led to heightened security at airports around the world, including Tampa International Airport.

Despite having no reported security threats at TIA, passengers could expect to see extra officers and canines roaming the terminals until security concerns decrease following Tuesday's deadly attack at an airport in Brussels.

A key factor in spotting explosive devices in an airport, or any large scale event, is bomb-sniffing dogs, according to local law enforcement.

There are eight bomb-sniffing dogs in the K-9 unit at the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office; a unit that expanded after the September 11 attacks.

"As of September 11, the number significantly rose. I think, at the time, we only had one or two [bomb-sniffing dogs] at the time, and we immediately went, as quick as we could get trained, up to eight or nine," said Deputy Jason Hay, a K-9 trainer and handler with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

Hay and his shepherd, Karlo, have worked together for nearly five years. He said dogs typically undergo three months of intensive training to become certified in explosive detection, but the training process continues year round to keep the dogs' senses sharp.

"There are six basic odors that cover pretty much any explosive that can be made," explained Hay. "A dog can smell something a good length away and draw you over to that area. It might be enough to induce an alert."

Once a K-9 officer detects an explosive material, they are trained to sit next to the suspicious bag and stare at it until their handler is aware of the threat.

Dogs are trained to spot hundreds of chemical combinations.

Despite preparation, members of the K-9 unit hope they never experience what happened Tuesday on the other side of the world.

"It's not a rewarding job, if that makes any sense to you. That's the whole point of having these dogs, is trying to cut off what may be coming into an area or setup prior to anything going off. That's the whole goal," said Hay.

At the order of Homeland Security, TSA officials at TIA said they will continue to take extra precautions until further notice.

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