New K9s join TPA’s team as three retire from crime-sniffing careers
Don’t let the soft, fuzzy exteriors and loveable faces fool you. These Tampa International Airport Police Department rookies have been through intense training and follow strict safety protocols to keep TPA’s passengers, guests and employees safe.
Meet Caleb, Uzi and Tyson, the newest K9 additions to the ever-growing team at TPA. These prepared pups come as three of the older dogs, Vika, Ikar and Aatwood, also known as “Woody,” reach the end of their police careers.
The K9 program began at TPA in the late 1990s and has about six dogs in service at a time. The K9s are usually either purchased through a vendor or provided by the Transportation Security Administration with partial funding. TIAPD houses two units under one name, the TIAPD K9 program and the TSA K9 program.
The furriest members of the Police Department are often tasked to sniff out threats and respond to emergencies, bomb threats and suspected drug smuggling. Vika, an explosives detection K9 recently named top dog in the region, has medically retired and is being replaced by Tyson. Tyson is a 2-year-old German Shepherd, young enough to be described as “green,” a common term in the industry for a K9 at the beginning of his or her career.
“The average work span for detection K9 is typically six to eight years, but that can vary based on the K9’s health condition,” said TIAPD K9 Corporal Traci Dietz, who will be keeping her companion, Vika, after her retirement.
Cpl. Dietz has been with TPA for 10 years and got into dog training as a teenager. She began her law enforcement career at 19 and worked her way through different divisions, but she always knew she wanted to be a K9 officer. Since beginning her handler position, Cpl. Dietz has put herself through extensive schooling and training and has now become a certified judge and trainer for the United States Police Canine Association (USPCA) Southeast Region.
Both Woody, a 12-year-old black lab, and his partner, Officer Porter, will be retiring together and they’ll be replaced by Officer Erick Sanchez and the 1-year-old Belgian Malinois, Uzi.
As a K9 officer, your work is rewarding, but it never truly stops.
“Even on your days off, as a handler you’re taking care of that K9,” said Dietz. “[When hiring new teams], we look for people who understand the full scope of the position as well as those who understand that they need to be on call in case a situation arises.”
The third new addition to the team, a Belgian Malinois who goes by Caleb, is named in honor of a fallen solider and will be replacing Ikar, a 7-year-old canine specializing in narcotics detection. In the three years Detective Thomas Donnelly and Ikar were partners, they seized nearly $2 million dollars and a half-ton of narcotics.
“We work really hard to ensure that the passengers are safe and that they feel secure,” Cpl. Dietz emphasized.
When asked what passengers at TPA should know about the K9 program, Cpl. Dietz said it’s critical for all to let the dogs do their job and keep everyone safe. While they have extensive training, they can still get distracted and it’s important to ensure they are focused on the task at hand.
“I’m very proud of how far and how hard the Tampa International Airport Police K9 teams work to stay proficient at what we do,” said Cpl. Dietz.