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As a Federal Protective Services (FPS) Inspector, Hollywood resident Christine Hixson has been protecting federal facilities, their occupants, and visitors for the last 29 years.
In 2004, she became a dog handler, partnering with a highly-trained detection dog to conduct searches for explosive materials near building exteriors, and people in and around federal facilities. The inspector/canine team also provides a strong visible and psychological deterrent against criminal and terrorist threats and are available to assist federal, state, and local law enforcement partners.
FPS Explosive Detection Canine Teams include a highly trained detection dog and a law enforcement handler. Since the program first started in Washington, DC in 1998, it has grown from 12 teams to a fully operational, national program of more than 70 authorized teams, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s web site.
But depending on its health status, most “bomb-sniffing” K-9s retire around 10 years of age.
“Christine’s first dog, Kim, was retired by the department in November 2009,” explains Christine’s husband, David Hixson. “So Christine was sent to the Customs Border Patrol (CBP) Academy in Front Royal, Virginia to select a new dog.”
When Christine was asked to pick out a partner, she connected with Falconess, then a customs dog.
“You have to understand that Christine is 5’2″ and 130 pounds,” explains Hixson. “Falconess is a 60-65 pound, red sable, German Shepherd and the joke was ‘who was leading whom’ as Falconess pulled her all over the academy.”
For the next six years, Christine and Falconess became an inseparable team.
As an explosives detection dog, Falconess’ primary service was making sure that federal property such as, the Miami-Dade and Broward County federal court houses, as well as Social Security offices and other federal properties, were safe.
After three years with Customs Border Patrol and six-plus years with Christine and FPS, 11-year-old Falconess was recently retired from service by the Department of Homeland Security.
After a service dog finishes a police career, they live at home with their handler to live out their life as a family pet.
These days, Falconess enjoys a slower-paced work environment with Christine’s husband. David, who works as a CPA in Aventura, has a crate in his office specially set up for Falconess. “I try to take her with me to work a couple of days a week,” he says. “She loves the interaction with the girls in the office. If a client comes by, I usher her in to the crate and she goes without a problem.”
Christine is now partnered with Tom, a three-year old black Labrador from Los Angeles. While vacationing in North California last year, Christine and David volunteered to pick him up. They went back to the Sonoma County rental, bonded and then all flew back to Hollywood.
“Needless to say,” shares David, “the passengers around us were very happy to know that an ED dog was resting happily on the floor between our seats.”
After Tom’s advanced training, he has been on the job with Christine every day.
“There is a bond that has to be seen to be appreciated. These dogs want to work and they are very good at it. Christine has done training scenarios at my office and it is truly amazing to see the dog in full search mode.”
Meanwhile, Falconess is enjoying her retirement in Hollywood at the home of Christine and David while her replacement, Tom, does his best to follow in her impressive paw prints.
If you would like to learn more about how these dynamic teams work, visit The Federal Protective Service | Homeland Security and Explosive Detection Canine Teams | Homeland Security.
Interested in adopting an explosives detection dog?
Last November, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced they looking for a few good homes for their explosives detection dogs who didn’t make it through the training program or have retired from the explosives detection business. There is no cost to adopt a TSA canine.
The dogs typically range in age from two to 10 years and the breeds usually include German Short-Haired Pointers, Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois.
The dogs available for adoption were procured to serve as working dogs, and their breeds were selected for their elevated level of “drive,” and thus are very active. Some are well trained, others are not. Canines which were eliminated from the program typically have received some explosives detection training. Most of TSA’s dogs have lived in kennels, not houses, and thus are not familiar with living in a home environment. All are spayed or neutered prior to adoption.
Applicants must meet the requirements and then photos and information on the dogs will be provided via email. The Adoption Coordinator will assist in identifying a dog that best suits each home and family. Applicants will need to provide a signed and notarized indemnity letter, travel to San Antonio to meet the canine and travel home with the dog at the owner’s expense. People interested in adopting one of the dogs can contact the TSA Adoption Coordinator via email at: AdoptaTSAcanine@OLE.tsa.dhs.gov.”
Military working dogs are also available for adoption through the Department of Defense.