LACKLAND, Texas-- They are cute, frisky, and spirited - just like any other puppy. However, these are no ordinary canines. They are worth thousands of dollars because the Labradors are explosive-detecting dogs that work for the Transportation Security Administration.
The genetically engineered animals are bred and housed at the TSA Canine and Development Program at Lackland Air Force Base.
"All of the dogs who go through training start here in San Antonio," says program head, Scott Thomas.
All the canine handlers come to San Antonio as well, said Thomas.
Since its inception in 2002, the TSA program has more than 800 dogs working in mass-transit environments all across the nation.
"We have them as far north as Maine and as far south as Miami," said Thomas. "They go as far west as Los Angeles, as far east as anything up and down the DC and Baltimore area."
Their mission is to sniff out explosives at airports, cargo facilities, and in mass transit systems to prevent terrorist or criminal bombings. The reward, as a result of the training, is primarily a rope toy. By design, the tug-toy is tied to the animal's ability to perform certain exercises. In fact, the toy is an intricate part of their rearing.
"We just knew it was our calling," said Henry Abdullah.
The Adbullah family of Boerne decided to become a part of the TSA's Puppy Walker program. That's where families or volunteers take on the project of socializing the bomb-sniffing dogs at their homes.
"I think, if anything, we can't say we're bored," said Henry's wife, Debbie.
She's a retired flight attendant. His job is in the airline insurance industry. Their idea to become puppy walkers came from reading an article about the program. They spoke with their sons, Holden and Gaven, about taking on a dog as a patriotic duty.
"We've had so many homes that have been successful, from retired families to students to active families that have kids in all kinds of sporting activities," said Thomas.
He said the main thing that makes a good home are people that are very patriotic and want to do some service project for the country.
"We've had him in a boat," said Debbie. "We've taken him on an escalator and elevators and steps."
He is Eeagan. Their explosive-finding pouch is considered a member of the family in their Boerne home. The boys see him as a brother. Yet, he is handled as a working dog. The Abdullah's have a scripted regimen that must be followed for Eeagan to become a certified TSA canine team member.
Like the hundreds of dogs that came before him, Eeagan's name is special. The animals are given the names of fallen troops and 9/11 victims. Eeagan's namesake is Captain Martin Egan who was killed in the September 11 attacks.
The Abdullahs are documenting Eeagan's life in their home in a scrapbook to present to the fallen fire fighter's family one day.
"Just thinking of him and the others just makes us that more motivated to make sure we succeed and do everything we can for Eeagan," said Henry.
The government pays for the dog's every need during the entire stay. The TSA canines live with the families for about ten months, then it's on to explosive training. The Abdullah's say they have to give Eeagan up in February 2012.
"It's going to be with mixed emotions," said Debbie. "We just need to concentrate on what we've done and, hopefully, what Eeagan will do."
Thomas says it's a part of the job to be critical of each dog to ensure that the best candidates are selected for the program.
"It's hard to deal with a young puppy and not become somewhat attached," he said.
Yet, it's a volunteer effort they say that could save hundreds if not thousands of lives.