WASHINGTON – Charlie, the first gun-sniffing dog at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, demonstrated his ability to members of Congress Wednesday by finding a hidden .380-caliber pistol inside a sealed plastic pipe.
The 2-year-old black Labrador retriever went on to identify a piece of a pipe bomb that had blown up several months ago, a spent round and a small length of shock tube used in detonating explosives.
Charlie’s unusual audience included a House Appropriations subcommittee on treasury, postal service and general government. The congressmen examined law enforcement programs under the U.S. Treasury Department.
“I think it’s important that our constituents know the integrity of the programs,” said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Mitchellville, the subcomittee’s ranking Democrat. “It gives confidence to the taxpayers that their money is being spent correctly.”
Programs that fall under the Treasury Department’s control include the Secret Service, U.S. Customs, the Internal Revenue Service and the ATF. About one-third of all federal officers wear a Treasury badge.
“Federal employees get it in the neck too often,” Hoyer told officers present. “Thank you for your leadership and your effort.”
Grace Sours, 33, of Fairfax, Va., the ATF agent who works long hours with Charlie searching out guns and explosives, said the two have responded to calls throughout the country, including at this year’s Super Bowl.
She added that Charlie is trained to find 19,000 different explosives formulas. He is the only dog in the country trained to respond to the nitrate residue in firearms, Sours said.
These nitrates can never be cleaned from guns or bombs. “Two years from now, Charlie could find it,” Sours said.
The two were called last year to search more than 52 trailers of mailbags at a Los Angeles airport after the Unabomber threatened another strike. No explosives were found, she said.
Another success occurred last December in a drug trafficker’s stuffed closet in Southeast Washington. Agents had failed to find anything, yet Charlie persisted, Sours said. “We ripped the closet apart and found one of those MAC-10s suspended from the clothing rod in a plastic bag.”
The ATF in the past year has trained more than 100 dogs to look for nitrates in guns and explosives, Sours said. Except for Charlie, all have been assigned to other countries, such as Israel, Egypt and Chile, to combat terrorism, she said. Charlie finished ATF training last May, she said. -30-