McLennan County partners with ATF for first bomb dog

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WACO, Texas (KWTX) A federal agency is partnering with a local sheriff's department in an effort to fight terrorism.

Kori is the first bomb-sniffing K-9 for McLennan County. (Photo by Rissa Shaw)

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives has entered into an inter-agency agreement with the McLennan County Sheriff's Office for a bomb-detection dog.

"We're just very lucky to have the liaison with this other agency like we have," said Sheriff Parnell McNamara. "I think it says a lot that they reached out and wanted us to take a dog, we're very honored."

It's a first for the county.

"McLennan County's never had an explosives dog, so I'd kind of be the pioneer of the program here," said Derek Russell, K-9 handler and Corporal with the McLennan County Sheriff's Office.

The agreement was finalized in late May and on June 3 Russell drove to Front Royal, Virginia for ten weeks of training at the ATF Canine Training Center where he was matched with Kori, a 16-month-old yellow Labrador Retriever.

"ATF uses labs, and labs only, strictly for their noses," said Russell. "They get their dogs out on the front lines with state and local departments helping fight the fight against terrorism."

Russell has been a bomb-tech with the MCSO for four years and put-in for an explosives K-9 two years ago.

"She actually outranks me," said Russell.

Kori is trained on a combination of 19,000 different explosives.

"You name it, she'll find it," said Russell. "Black powder, C-4, TNT...anything you can think of, even stuff overseas they're seeing trickle over stateside."

While MCSO has had a bomb unit for years, Kori can do things humans and robots can't.

"Kori doesn't have to use her eyes she can use her nose, so she can smell through a briefcase, through a truck, as opposed to a robot who's not going to be able to see through that," said Russell.

She can also find live and spent ammunition and weapons used in crimes, he says.

Her reward for doing so? Food.

"In order for her to eat, she has to work," said Russell.

He says they train seven days a week and Kori eats three times a day.

Kori has already been deployed twice in less than a month and was on her way to help with the Odessa Shooting but got called off.

"This is another wonderful asset that the McLennan County Sheriff's Office can use to keep our citizens safe," said McNamara.

According to counter terrorism officials with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, preventing terrorist attacks is the agency's top priority, and there have been more arrests and deaths caused by domestic terrorists than international ones in recent years.

"You never know this day in age what's going to end up on your doorstep, from the Austin bombings to everything else that's crazy in the world, so she just adds that much more peace of mind to citizens of McLennan County as well as the state of Texas," said Russell.

The ATF canine teams closest to Russell and Kori are in Dallas and San Antonio.

"We're excited about it and Derek is a wonderful handler, he's so serious about the job that he does and so are we," said McNamara.

Kori was drafted to the ATF from Puppies Behind Bars, a program where prison inmates raise and train puppies to be service dogs.

"We have drug dogs but before now we didn't have dogs that could find explosives: she's unbelievable, she can find spent rounds that are underground, it's just an amazing dog," said McNamara.

She was originally supposed to be a guide dog for the blind but was too hyper, Russell says.