Top Dog K-9 Unit Keeps Kennedy Safe
NASA Kennedy Space Center K-9 Officer Jerome Player tosses a special decoy across the field at the center's Law Enforcement Academy and watches as his four-legged partner, Carlos, eagerly runs to retrieve it. Afterward, Player puts Carlos through his daily training and exercise routine.

Carlos and five other canines named Berry, Dex, Joep, Nero and Robbie are the top dogs at Kennedy. They and their handlers make up the center's K-9 Unit, on duty 24/7 to keep 144,000 acres of Kennedy property safe and secure.

The dogs are all Belgian Malinois from the Netherlands, a breed of Belgian sheepherding dogs that are popular with the police and military. Kennedy's K-9s are all male and are 4-6 years old. K-9 Carlos attacks Officer John McGee during training exercise

Image above: K-9 Carlos attacks Officer John McGee, who is acting as a suspect, during training exercises at Kennedy Space Center's Law Enforcement Academy. Photo credit: NASA/Cory Huston

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K-9 Unit Lead Ken Cox and his partner Joep

Image above: K-9 Unit Lead Ken Cox and his partner, Joep, work through the obstacle course during training exercises at Kennedy Space Center's Law Enforcement Academy. Photo credit: NASA/Cory Huston

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Capt. Chris Vaughn with Space Gateway Support is the K-9 Unit supervisor as well as a master trainer. He's trained all of the dogs, including his partner, Berry.

"The K-9 Unit is an invaluable asset to the space program," Vaughn said. "We can be mobile to respond to real-time threats and be on scene in moments.

"They are an incredible asset as a deterrent to crime," Vaughn added.

Each dog receives a minimum of 400 hours of training to be certified to detect narcotics and explosives, and criminal apprehension training to assist with the Emergency Response Team and tracking suspects trying to evade arrest.

A normal day's activities include sweeps of designated facilities, parking lots and random vehicle inspections at entrance gates. During space shuttle launches and landings they are out and about performing sweeps of facilities and launch site viewing areas.

"They are their handler's partner," Kennedy Protective Services Special Agent Roger Langevin said. "The dogs have dedicated their lives to law enforcement. We depend on them just as we would depend on another law enforcement officer."

The bond between each K-9 and their handler is as important as the team's ability to work together to keep the center and its work force safe and secure.

Langevin said the K-9 Unit has been called upon to track illegal immigrants, provide mutual aid to local law enforcement, locate felons within the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge and assist during bomb threats in Brevard, Volusia and Indian River counties.

K-9s Reno and Ringo are retired, though they make occasional appearances at events, such as Family Day and Kennedy's annual picnic. They continue to receive care and remain on center at the Law Enforcement Academy.

Recently, the unit lost one of their family members, Lilly, a female black Labrador retriever. Officer Wendy Law was her partner.

Law said Lilly was certified in the detection of controlled substances in 1998 by Vaughn and Master Trainer Jan Scofield of the North American Police Work Dog Association in Titusville, Fla. She was re-certified in May 2002.

According to Law, Lilly was responsible for more than 200 drug-related arrests. The majority of these arrests were Brevard County citizens traversing Kennedy roadways that are open to the public.

"She helped make five arrests in one day outside the perimeter gates of Kennedy," Law said. "She was a hard-working K-9 and she will be missed."

Linda Herridge
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center