TSA K9 and handler at PDX being recognized as best in the nation - KPTV - FOX 12

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TSA K9 and handler at PDX being recognized as best in the nation

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K9 Freeman (KPTV) K9 Freeman (KPTV)
K9 Freeman and handler Officer Jessica Gonzalez (KPTV) K9 Freeman and handler Officer Jessica Gonzalez (KPTV)

Their mission is to keep bombs out of Portland International Airport and off of out-going planes.

A TSA K9 team in Portland is now being recognized across the country for their efforts to protect travelers.

Among the levels of security at PDX, you'll find Freeman the black lab. Passengers' lives depend on his nose.

"He's trained to detect explosives, a wide range," said Explosive Detection K9 Officer Jessica Gonzalez.

Every day Freeman and handler Jessica Gonzalez walk security lines at the airport looking for people carrying explosives. 

"He's trained to sniff people as they're walking, or standing, which is new technology of dogs," said Gonzalez. "He's the leading edge of the people sniffing dogs."

To make sure nothing gets past that nose, TSA tells FOX 12 they send decoys into the airport daily as a test.

"Let's say a person we strapped up with explosives is going through the checkpoint, he, [Freeman,] is going to have a change of behaviors. His nose is in the air, he's working the odors of the crowd of people as he works his way to that person," said Gonzalez. "When he determines who that person is, he will sit on that person, or he will follow them and if that person is walking, he's going to drag me to that person."

FOX 12 was there, as TSA agents performed one of those tests. They placed a suitcase, with explosive materials inside, on the ground of the airport for Freeman to find.

Freeman quickly picked up the scent and his nose lead him straight to the suitcase.

"We get paid in money and they get paid with balls," said Gonzalez. "He doesn't think he's going to find a bomb he thinks he's going to get his tennis ball when he finds the bomb, so he's doing it all for his tennis ball."

Gonzalez says she's been with the K9 program at PDX from the beginning, and helped to build programs in Austin and Seattle too. Her training, techniques and track record with Freeman all part of the reason she was just awarded TSA K9 Handler of the Year.

"She's the best K9 handler in the country, out of 1,000 teams, 350 are TSA," said Michael Irwin Federal Security Director of Oregon. "The best technology in the nation is in the snout of that dog right there. Our dogs are phenomenal and they can catch anything."

While Gonzalez isn't allowed to talk about any real threats K9 teams encounter at PDX, or other airports across the nation, what she will say is that she trusts Freeman to take down anyone who tries to bring harm to passengers.

A team on the front line of protecting a nation, PDX and all who travel through.

"It's a very rewarding job, to know what you do matters, their training matters," said Gonzalez. "Everything we put into their training is a reflection of the dog and the team and protecting the nation."

Gonzalez says she and Freeman also traveled to the Super Bowl in Houston to also help with security there. 

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