“I have the best job at the airport,” Officer S. Terri Giannetti, of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, likes to say.
Of the 47,000,000 travelers likely to pass through John F. Kennedy International Airport this year, Giannetti says that “98 percent of them are just people going from point A to point B, and hoping to do it safely.”
The other 2 percent? She’s on it.
Covering nearly 5,000 acres of Queens, JFK is New York’s sprawling city within the city. Most see it as a gateway to adventure, or a place of happy reunions and tearful partings. But to Giannetti and her colleagues on the K-9 team, the airport is an arena that hosts a never-ending game of cat-and-mouse—OK, make that dog-and-mouse—between cops and drug smugglers.
Giannetti’s partner is Tery, a female Belgian Malinois with endless work drive. This 60-pound sleuth is a “positive-response dog”: She will bite and scratch at where she locates contraband.
“Drugs come in by a variety of different ways,” Giannetti says. “It’s interesting to see what the concealment methods are.”
In one spectacular case, Tery located nearly eight pounds of heroin, divided into 15 small packets and hidden in the walls of a large water cooler. The smugglers filled the container with an intense masking odor, hoping to make the packets difficult to detect. No such luck. Tery’s nose, operating at a level 10,000 to 100,000 times higher than yours or mine, led Giannetti to the half-million dollars’ worth of dope.
“She loves to find what she’s looking for,” says Giannetti.
The work ethic of this fawn-and-black drug buster is but one qualification needed by a police dog. A great working dog has that extra something—high spirits. Whip-smart Tery delights in outwitting airport kennel workers and masterminding escapes—not because she wants to go anywhere, but simply for kicks. “She’ll bolt out of the gate and run around the kennel to get all the other dogs barking,” Giannetti says. “She’s a bit of a comedian. Many a handler has come to me and told me that she has gotten over on him yet again.”
Giannetti and Tery have won K-9 competitions and official commendations. The accolades are humbly appreciated, but K-9 officers enjoy one kind of tribute more than any other. “It’s nice to think that every time we make a seizure, we’re keeping drugs off the street. It really makes our day when a traveler comes up and thanks us and supports our mission: to keep our country safe,” says the woman with the best job at the airport.
“True Crime K-9s” is based on “The ACE Files” stories originally published in AKC Family Dog magazine.