Magnus is one of five 2021 AKC Awards for Canine Excellence recipients. He won the Search and Rescue category. This category recognizes dogs certified to assist in wilderness and urban tracking, natural disasters, mass casualty events, and locating missing people.
In May 2014 Sinead Imbaro, of Miami, said goodbye to Marcus Aurelius, her endeared German Shepherd Dog and working dog companion.
An owner of German Shepherds for 39 years, she was devastated. “Marcus had an incredible nose, was a quick learner and I felt no dog could ever replace him. We simply had a deep connection.”
While she had two other German Shepherds at home, word spread among her circle of friends about this huge void in her life.
Jessica Lloyd, of Percy, Illinois, reached out to Imbaro, offering her first pick from a recent Belgian Malinois litter.
“I appreciated it, but turned it down,” Imbaro recalls. “I never had a Malinois before, and knowing the parents of the litter, I did not want a crazy dog that would run me ragged.”
Bringing Home Magnus
But Lloyd wasn’t done yet. She accepted Imbaro’s decline but asked if she was to choose a puppy which one would it be. “I said the one with the biggest head,” Imbaro laughs. “So she sent me a photo of the one with the biggest head and wanted to name him Marcus in honor of my boy who just passed.”
While she appreciated the gesture there was only one Marcus for Imbaro, and what’s more, she adds, “He looked more like a Magnus. I said name him Magnus, as his photo just screamed personality. She agreed, and from that day forward, she sent photos of him on a daily basis – sleeping, waking up, eating, peering around the corner.”
Imbaro maintained her stance: Magnus was not about to join her household!
That is, until she embarked on a road trip with her two German Shepherds to a K9 conference in Phoenix in June 2014, her first without Marcus and two months after Magnus was born. “Being at that conference and seeing all those working crazy Malinois dogs and puppies confirmed my decision,” she adds.
There was still a promised Illinois stop ahead of her. The following morning after her arrival, she – and her two GSDs – went to see the Malinois litter. One of the 7-week-old puppies would not let Imbaro out of its sight. “He was hell-bound on staying with me. If I walked around a tree, he followed. If I walked over an obstacle, he followed. His determination was bigger than him!”
She finally walked up a set of stairs to the porch to lose him. Oops, how did that work out? Well, she turned around to see him climbing the steps behind her.
Impressed, but not sold, Imbaro tested the puppy and two littermates for their drive. He passed and she decided to take him back to Miami for training. In a cat crate on the front seat alongside Imbaro, he slept soundly, didn’t whine, and was certainly not high maintenance for the entire trip.
The bond between the two quickly cemented itself once they were home, as Imbaro shaped his behaviors in quest of becoming a highly skilled detection dog specializing in human odor and narcotics.
And, oh, what an imprint Magnus and Imbaro have made in the search-and-rescue community since then, highlighted by the pair being named the prestigious 2021 AKC Humane Fund Awards for Canine Excellence Search-and-Rescue winners.
The 87-pound Magnus is certified by the American Working Association for Narcotics Detection, working the past six years keeping drugs off the streets throughout the country. His glossy resume also includes Level 1 Trailing Certification, Phase 1 MPC Basic Tracking Course, FEMA Canine Search Specialist and Narcotics certification in Brazil with the South American Working Dog Association. The versatile Malinois is also a K9 Medic Demo dog, where he is used to show how to properly care for an injured K9 on scene.
The pair travel nationwide (a minimum of 40,000 miles annually) and internationally teaching odor-detection techniques to handlers. He has brought home numerous awards in international detection competitions, too. He competed with USA K9 team in the Working Dog Olympics 2021 in Brazil, placing second in Exterior Narcotics Searches and placing fourth overall.
But their journey met some resistance at the outset. When puppy Magnus was introduced to an “old-school, hardcore sport competition” trainer Imbaro knew, she was quickly told he would not be a suitable working dog candidate since he had no drive.
“Well, my heart sank, and I left right away with Magnus,” she recalls. But alas, she was soon contacted on Facebook by a Belgian police officer, who sent her a video of him and his Malinois K9 partner performing obedience and different tasks. Passers-by and cars did not distract the dog’s attentiveness on his handler.
“I was focused by the control, yet independence, of their relationship,” Imbaro emphasizes.
The video was a mind-blowing inspiration for the Floridian. “He said he would teach me the method he uses to train dogs. That was the day a spark ignited inside me. A fire that burns within me today. To never settle and keep pressing forward until you succeed. From that day, his name went from simply Magnus to Magnus Ares (The Great God of War). A tiny puppy that would soon grow into a warrior. A dog that would be a hope and aspiration to all that were following our journey on discovering odor.”
No Days Off
Imbaro works for Florida Task Force 6, Georgia K9 National Training Center, K9 Medic and hires out as a private contractor for detection assignments across the country. She is also a Police K9 Trainer and Military Fitness Specialist.
Days off are not in their vocabulary. “We are constantly training. It’s mostly conditioning his body with swimming, running on a treadmill, or playing ball in the field. We are always working environmental in different places around town or elsewhere. It’s hard to take him to a lot of public areas to lay back and chill, as he will detect narcotics on humans.”
This finely tuned companion’s temperament is best characterized by Imbaro as clear, calm, yet active when needed; careful, sociable, confident, and observant.
What’s been her most memorable response?
The Surfside (Florida) condominium collapse June 24, where 98 people died. “It was surreal from our first steps on to the pile having to smell the overwhelming scent of human remains, smoke, and fire nearby as we search for life.
“The uncertainty of where it was safe to step forward to keeping an eye on Magnus as he was ranging far from me while doing his job was exceptionally challenging. The debris was unsafe with rebar, broken glass, large voids between cement slabs. As a dog team we train countless hours to prepare for the unknown as much as possible. As much as we were prepared nothing could simulate that first day in a training scenario.”
As chaotic as the environment presented itself, Imbaro says it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Debris wasn’t the only challenge. Add humidity, heat, rain, and lightning during nine days on the scene.
One day the cement debris radiated considerable heat and in return increased Magnus’s body temperature to a danger point. She rushed him to the nearby team ambulance and began administering fluids and began cooling him down. He recovered, but was forced to rest for a short time before heading back to the search site.
Imbaro concludes, “Our relationship is symbiotic, yet we are independent of each other. But we are connected in a partnership. He understands my body movements, and his. Due to the way I trained him, his focus is on me but always on the task at hand. He’s my buddy on my so-called off days. We are always engaging in some sort of activity that both of us must complete together – be it conquering an obstacle or working on obedience.”