The BART system might be a little safer thanks to its hardworking canine members. The dogs are paired with handlers, and as teams they patrol BART trains, stations, and property. The dogs’ job is to sniff out contraband, chase the occasional bad guy, and make friends on the job, among other duties.
Chris Filipe of the BART communications department shared some details about the furry four-legged BART employees that in some form or another have been making rounds at BART since 1990. More than 30 dogs have passed through the program. The dogs were initially trained as protection dogs, but the transportation agency added cross-training for explosive ordinance detection, or EOD. Currently, BART uses eight K9 teams. Four dogs are protection/EOD dogs, and four are Transportation Security Administration EOD only.
“Our K9’s have performed EOD sweeps for President Obama, VP Biden, Hillary Clinton, prime ministers, the Dalai Lama, NCAA Final 4, Super Bowls 50 and 51, Golden State Warriors, Stanley Cup Finals, USA Olympic gymnastic qualifiers, parades, graduations, and funerals, along with everyday checks for unattended packages left in the BART system and bomb threats made throughout the four counties we provide service,” Filippi said.
If the canine is a TSA K9, the TSA provides and covers associated costs, including the dog and the training, which occurs at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. If the dog is a protection/EOD canine, the dog costs around $10,000 then another $8,000 for training, excluding travel expenses. BART incurs recurring costs for training throughout the year. The budget fluctuates depending on year-to-year needs (i.e., training, re-certifications, travel, trials, demos, call outs, etc., Filippi said.)
The dogs work five to seven years, though the TSA K9s typically work longer than protection K9s. The dogs often retire to their handler, living out their remaining years at their handler’s home. If a handler retires from the program and the dog can still work for a few years, BART or TSA may reassign the canine to another handler.
The K9s are named before being assigned to a handler. Sometimes the handlers will alter their partner’s names slightly. “We have a K9 whose name is Zadar, but the handler has shortened his name to Zee,” Filippi said.
Three of the eight BART K9 handlers responded to Bay Woof’s inquiry about their K9 partners.
K9 Handler: Steve Christ
K9 Partner: Bart ( … ya, the irony in that name.)
Weight: 90 pounds
Breed: German Shepherd
Favorite Treat: Whimzees dental treats
Favorite Toy: Red Kong on Rope
Claim to Fame: At Super Bowl 50, Bart got a Wilson football to play with. He has also found four guns.
Special Trick: Bart knows sign language. He responds to hand signals from me.
Likes to Sleep: Bart likes to sleep on his back!!
About Bart: Bart is a protection K9. He can find and apprehend bad guys, and he is cross-trained in explosive odors. He can also track lost people and search for evidence or other lost articles. Bart is from Slovakia, and I got him the day before his second birthday. We have been together just over five years now. I got him on a Friday in Los Angeles, and we drove back to the Bay Area the same day. He was so stinky from his 18-hour flight, we had to pull over several times to make sure he hadn’t gone to the bathroom in his crate. First thing Saturday, he went to the groomers. Sunday, we returned to LA for our five-week training course. The first night in our hotel room, he was so loud from moving around in his crate, he slept in the closet. About a year later, we had a six-week course in bomb odors.
Bart is with me 24/7. We train every day at work for a couple hours as well as one full day a week. Additionally, we train on our days off. We patrol parking lots, BART stations and property, and ride trains. I’m 6’ 5’’, but people usually notice Bart before they notice me. The K9s are good conversation starters. People always ask questions about them and our relationship.
K9 Handler: Justin Ross
K9 Partner: Blue
Weight: 70 pounds
Breed: German Shorthaired Pointer
Favorite Treat: Milk Bones
Favorite Toy: Wubba Bubba dog toy
Favorite Game: Destroy the stuffed squirrel
Claim to Fame: He’s everyone’s best friend.
Likes to Sleep: He’s comfy and relaxed when he’s on his own dog bed.
Special Trick: He finds explosives.
Job: Daily explosive sweeps of the BART stations and district property. Explosive detection call outs for bomb threats, unattended packages, and special events.
About Blue: Blue is the newest K9 to the unit and thus is one of the most playful K9s in our unit. When he joined the unit, he had a difficult time differentiating between work and play, so it took many, many hours of training to get him to know when to work and when to play. Since he realized the difference, he has been spot-on with his explosive detection. Blue has made leaps and bounds when it comes to not only detection, but also his work and play drive. He has been able to function under difficult conditions for many hours and continues to impress not only myself but also others that watch him work.
K9 Handler: James Krejci
K9 Partner: Zadar (We call him Zee.)
Age: 5½ (It’s important to get that ½ in at his age.)
Weight: 105 pounds (Don’t judge.)
Breed: German Shepherd
Favorite Treat: Buffalo bones
Favorite Toy: Tennis balls
Favorite Game: Playing tag with bad guys.
Claim to fame: Poster K9 for 2017 Cover Your K9 Advertising Campaign
Special Trick: Able to open doors (which is not always a positive).
Likes to Sleep: At home, in the car, in the yard … actually, he loves to sleep anywhere!
Experience: Zee has 3½ years of being a cross-trained team, which means he is trained in explosives detection and protection (ya, he bites).
About Zee: Zee is the biggest K9 in our unit, which means he is lovingly teased the most by everyone in the unit! Even in training, he’s quite a sight to see charging at you at full speed. We have our daily routine, and we have had some hairy situations; the most recent was a search for a burglary suspect in a warehouse in Oakland. The suspect tried hiding in a stand-up garbage can; Zee was able to track him, find him, and … well, let’s just say it didn’t end well for the bad guy.
It is great having a partner like Zee to spend a whole shift with, and it is amazing how popular he is with the general public.
Bay Woof would like to thank Chris Filippi of the BART communications department and the K9 handlers for participating.
Main article photo by: Photos by Lance Yamamoto