Duke LeDuc works at Los Angeles International Airport. Snaking through lines and inspecting bags takes up much of his time, but like many employed by the Transportation Security Agency, he’s more than his job.
When he’s not ensuring the 66 million passengers who travel through Los Angeles board and deplane safely, he loves car karaoke with his friend and coworker, Rommel Tolbert.
His guilty pleasure is wet grass.
He loves toys that squeak.
Most of all, the 6-year-old is particularly adept at sniffing out crumbs on the floor.
If it wasn’t obvious, Duke-LeDuc is a dog — one of 1,000 that work for TSA nationwide as explosives detection canines. The chocolate brown, golden-eyed labrador retriever is also among 15 specially selected this year to be cover models for the agency’s 2024 calendar, an annual tradition that highlights the often behind-the-scenes work of federal working dogs and the civil servants who handle them.
The 300 dogs TSA trains each year epitomize public service with a smile: evoking it on the faces of those who see them walking alongside their handlers and on the goofy, tonguey faces of the dogs themselves. Cute as they are, they maximize the ability of TSA to ensure airline travelers are not threatened by explosives and serve as a visible deterrent to potential acts of terror.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks showed the horror of what terrorism could unleash upon civilians by large-scale hijacking transportation networks, Congress created TSA with a host of authorities and mandates aimed at securing the identity of travelers and the possessions they fly with.
Several of the dogs, including Duke-LeDuc, are named after employees who died on 9/11 while working at the World Trade Center towers in New York City.
While their presence wasn’t always a normal fixture of air travel, today’s they’re routine part of passenger and cargo screening. The dogs train for 16 weeks at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas before training with a handler and then earning their vest. They then become part of a network of federally “employed” dogs that act as an extension of human law enforcement officers’ senses.
The Department of Homeland Security, which houses TSA, is the biggest user of dogs, followed by the departments of Defense, State and Agriculture. About 40 government programs use federally-managed working dogs, according to the Government Accountability Office.
Many of the dogs selected for work, and featured in the calendar, are shepherds, labradors, pointers or Belgian malinois.
All of them are cute, though Dina, the rare, all-black German shorthaired pointer at Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas, won the grand prize as this year’s cover model. She had the special job of assisting during the Super Bowl in Arizona.
She’s a classic girl who loves a good, old-fashioned yellow tennis ball.
The calendar, which is free to download, features the usual federal holidays, plus TSA travel reminders and each of the featured dog’s birthdays.
Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.