A Nose for Trouble

You saved his life, now he's returning the favor

His coat glistens in the sunlight as he trots along the path. The sleek Black Labrador Retriever is on one of his regular walks, but today there’s much more on the line than the usual “end-of-the-trail” treat.

Melissa Larsen watches his every move. A trainer for the Boeing Explosive Detection K-9 Unit, Melissa is scouting a possible recruit. She’s watching how he responds to the thousands of smells that pepper the PAWS nature trail. So far, she likes what she sees.

Before the walk, Melissa and PAWS Shelter Manager Lisa Hockins played fetch with Ben, and then hid the ball on this trail. Melissa now watches to see if Ben can find it.

“We don’t ask the dog to find the ball; instead, we want to see if he uses his nose and locates the scent on his own,” explained Larsen.

Ben finds the ball without any help, and Melissa pronounces him “all nose.” It’s a match. Not the typical adoption match that happens thousands of time every year at PAWS, but a special match for a dog ready to do a job.

Ben came to the PAWS shelter full of energy and ready to play. Hockins quickly noticed the Black Lab had a high “ball drive” and notified Larsen.

“We weren’t looking for another dog at the time, but when Lisa calls, I know it’s a dog worth looking at.” Ben also displayed a gentle demeanor when finding the ball, which is particularly important for a dog who will be training for explosives detection.

At PAWS, he was called Pie, but he’s now “Ben” in honor of the brother of a Boeing trainer who lost his life while serving in Afghanistan—a fitting legacy for a dog that will now protect and defend.

So a journey that began with a simple walk in the woods, has now taken Ben to Boeing’s plant in Charleston, South Carolina. When he’s not busy checking vehicles as they enter the facility, he lives on the beach with his new handler and two other canine pals. Not a bad life for a dog that came to PAWS looking for a second chance—in search of someone who understood his love of tennis balls.

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