Sniffing for Bombs: What it Takes To Be a K9 Officer

Courtney Lee is tasked with the job of keeping Vancouver International Airport safe. It’s not a small feat, but it’s one she doesn’t have to do alone. She works with Diesel, a two-year-old German Shepherd from the Netherlands who understands Dutch, German, and English, and keeps Courtney on her toes with his boundless energy. Together, they patrol the airport looking for explosives and anything suspicious. Courtney needs to make sure Diesel receives constant training, to keep him sharp and ready to respond.

Flown from the Netherlands to California, Diesel was hand-picked by trainers to patrol Vancouver’s international airport. He received environmental training, where he was tested around crowds, machines, and planes before being flown into Vancouver as a year-and-half old puppy, to meet Courtney.

As the only female member of Securiguard’s Canine (K9) Unit and the first K9 Patrol Officer at Vancouver airport, Courtney’s determination is what has cemented her into this role. She has always known that she has wanted to work with animals, and training Diesel for a greater purpose gives her a true sense of accomplishment. “I always thought that I never really want to be putting dogs down … or telling people bad news. I always thought … searching an airport or doing patrols was more of a better path for me.”

Courtney enrolled herself into law enforcement studies at the Justice Institute of BC while volunteering at Securiguard’s regular canine unit for several hours a week. She slowly learned the ropes until one day, she was told to take the leash. And while she initially took on some grittier placements in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, she eventually landed her dream job at the airport.

“When I got my first dog, I was like, ‘Okay, yep. This is the right decision,’ because I didn’t feel like work when I was training and it didn’t feel like work when I was working. I was like, ‘This is great. They’re paying me to do stuff that I’d be doing anyways.’ Even with the volunteer stuff, I’d go every day if I had to because it’s just something that I really love to do and I didn’t need to get paid for it.”

If there’s one thing Courtney wants people to know is that being a K9 Detection Handler is not a 9-5 job, it’s 24/7. Diesel lives with Courtney, sleeps on her couch, and is patrolling the airport with her eight hours a day. When Courtney goes on vacation, Diesel goes with her. It’s a lifestyle that Courtney wouldn’t change anything for.

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