The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced that a 4-year-old Golden Retriever and explosives detection canine named Alona is TSA’s Cutest Canine in 2021. She works with canine handler Vanessa at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport.
In voting conducted last week via a three-day nationwide social media contest on Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook, Alona became the people’s choice from a group of four TSA canine finalists that began among a list of 77 eligible canine contenders. TSA held the contest in recognition of National Dog Day, which is today. Preliminary voting among TSA employees narrowed the field of 77 contenders to the final four.
Voting members of the public chose Alona from that final four canine candidates that included 4-year-old German Shepherd Lexa, whose handler is Jennifer, and 4-year-old German Shepherd Lexi, whose handler is Daphne. Both of those canine handler teams are from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. The other contender was 3-year-old Belgian Malinois Badger, whose handler is Herb, from Chicago O’Hare International Airport. The canines were nominated by TSA handlers from airports around the country and voted on by dog lovers nationwide.
Alona started her career with the TSA’s National Explosives Detection Canine Team Program in August of 2018. She graduated from TSA’s Canine Training Center as a certified Passenger Screening Canine (PSC) with Vanessa, her handler. Alona’s favorite toy is a hard rubber ball, and she enjoys the open spaces of a park when she is off-duty. While on duty, she is curious and social. Most of all, she loves to overhear passengers talk about how adorable she is as she carries out her important responsibilities as a working canine.
TSA utilizes canines like Alona in its security operations nationwide. They are trained to detect the scent of explosives or explosive materials. These highly-skilled dogs are paired with handlers who utilize the working canine’s keen sense of smell when working throughout busy transportation environments.
Travelers departing, arriving and walking through the nation’s airports routinely see PSC teams working around passengers. These teams nimbly work through large groups of people to detect the source of a potential explosive. PSC handlers train frequently with their canines and learn how to interpret canine behaviors when the dog detects an explosive scent.
If a dog alerts its handler to the presence of explosive odor, TSA follows an established procedure to resolve the alarm. The use of these highly-trained canines remains one of the most effective elements within the layered security system to deter the introduction of explosive devices and detect explosives within the nation’s transportation network.
TSA recognizes that explosives are among the greatest threats to aviation security, so the agency developed a working canine program with regular testing and training to ensure they maintain a high standard of operational effectiveness. Continual training ensures TSA canine handler teams remain a reliable resource in detecting explosives, and prepare the teams for potential distractions in the busy and noisy transportation environment.
Currently, TSA has trained more than 1,000 canine teams that work at airports and mass-transit facilities across the country. While TSA’s canine partners are sociable, they are working dogs and should only be touched and fed by their handlers.
Later this year, TSA will announce the availability of its 2022 Canine Calendar, featuring the top 13 runners up in the 2021 Cutest Canine Contest. Alona will be the canine on the cover of the 2022 calendar.