TSA has a new top dog at Burlington airport

Published: Sep. 7, 2021 at 3:58 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - There’s a new top dog at the Burlington airport. After the retirement in August of TSA K-9 Cooper, there’s a new working dog sniffing out any trouble.

K-9 Donna was hot on the trail of something suspicious at the Burlington International Airport Tuesday morning. The explosives in this case were a decoy bag for training purposes.

Handler Robert Banach says he and Donna are a good team. He wanted to stay in the K9 program after his previous partner, Cooper, retired last month. And it so happened that Donna needed a new handler too after hers went to the military.

Banach picked her up July 8th and then it was time to go to work. He says they bonded quickly thanks to the TSA’s standardized training. “You definitely have to build that relationship, that bond, between handler and dog. So, when we’re working, I know what her change of behavior is when she’s on explosive odor. And the way we do that is just get out there and train, train, train,” Banach said.

The German shorthaired pointer is high-energy, affectionate, and always eager to give everything the sniff test. And also eager for some tug-of-war when she detects danger. “When it comes to work, she knows -- let’s go have fun,” Banach said.

While Donna is new to Burlington, she is not totally new to the job. She actually worked at JFK for a few years before coming here.

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: How is it for her to go from somewhere like JFK, which is so busy, to somewhere like Burlington, which is a lot quieter?

Robert Banach: There was a big change at first there for her. She has to stay more engaged, as we say. Because when you’re at somewhere like JFK and you’ve got hundreds of people that you’re screening, she’s constantly engaging people. Here you get the onesies, twosies that come through once in a while. But she’s slowly getting used to the rhythm.

You can expect to see Donna checking bags and bodies for any scent of trouble for several more years. Banach says she’ll likely be his last partner on the job. “Well, I retire in five years. And by that time she’ll be 10. So, I think it’s going to be perfect timing. We’ll both go out together,” he said.

K-9 Donna lounging at home.
K-9 Donna lounging at home.(WCAX)

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: What’s the biggest difference between Donna and Cooper? I’m sure every dog has their own personality.

Robert Banach: Absolutely. She’s a German shorthaired pointer, so she has a lot of energy. And she reminds me of Cooper when Cooper was two years old and he had all that energy. But it’s what we need in a working dog. You need that good drive, that wanting to work.

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: If they had to do a tug-of-war contest, who do you think would win?

Robert Banach: Oh, it would have to be Donna at this point. She’s a little younger.

As for Cooper, Banach says he’s doing well, enjoying retirement, and sleeping in. And he and Donna get along well.

Related Story:

TSA’s Cooper ready to retire from Burlington airport duty

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