Beltsville man's dogs have noses for trouble Business trains animals for security work

March 31, 1997|By CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - As the van rolls up to the gate, Sting eyes it closely. It comes to a stop, and she begins nosing it carefully - the wheel wells, under the bumpers and running boards.

This one is clean, and the van is allowed to pass through the heavy steel gate and make its delivery to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

At the other end of the leash is Wayne Collins, the ex-firefighter who trained her to be a bomb-sniffing dog.

Collins, 47, who spent more than 20 years with the Prince George's County Fire Department arson and bomb squad, has 12 dogs like Sting. They're at the heart of Collins Canine, his Beltsville business and one of only a handful of private companies in the country that offer the services of trained dogs for security work, law enforcement officials say.

Many police and fire departments in Maryland that use dogs say they either train them themselves, or send officers and dogs to larger departments, such as Baltimore County.

'We Nose It All'

Collins' slogan, "We Nose It All," aptly describes the skills of his dogs, which are trained to perform patrols and sniff out drugs, explosives and cadavers.

While on the bomb and arson squad, Collins foresaw that dogs might be trained to not only sniff out explosive devices, but to discover the origin of arsons.

Collins recalled a case in which his dog sniffed out a pair of hidden, gasoline-soaked slippers that a man had worn while attempting to set his sleeping wife on fire.

His fellow officers hadn't believed that a dog could be trained for such a task, Collins said. "I just wanted to do it because they told me I couldn't."

In another case he recalled, he and his dog were called upon to find dynamite that had been misplaced at a construction site.

After the explosives were recovered, the team was returning to its car when the dog registered another "hit." In a shed, under what looked like a pile of trash, was a box of blasting caps, Collins said. "The dog's nose may have saved some kid's life," he said.

That experience taught him a lesson that he has heeded ever since: Always trust your dog.

Collins retired from the fire department in 1989 because of problems with his neck and back, but began training his own dogs soon after. "They're really like family," he said.

Sting is a Belgian malinois, a breed Collins prefers to the German shepherds commonly seen in police canine units.

The malinois, which can range from 55 to 85 pounds, is "smaller, faster, more agile and lives longer" than a German shepherd, Collins said. It also is less susceptible to hip problems.

Collins imports the dogs from a breeder in the Netherlands, at a cost of more than $2,000 each.

He and the dogs "are all sort of trilingual," he said. Since the first dog that he brought from Holland was already an adult, Collins used Dutch and German commands to train it, a habit he has continued to the present.

So far, Collins said, his business is break-even at best. His work with the Holocaust museum, which began in January, is the first steady job he and his dogs have had. Most work is for a few days or a weekend.

For a typical job, such as sweeping a hotel or restaurant, Collins said he charges about $40 an hour, plus any travel expenses he incurs.

'This is my hobby'

"I'm not in this for the money. I may be listed as a business, and have a tax number, but this is my hobby. I do it because I love working with the dogs," he said.

But Patrick Lennon, director of technical security for Vance International, an Oakton, Va.-based security company, called him very professional.

"I've got the utmost confidence in him. Otherwise, I'd never use him," said Lennon, who has worked with Collins repeatedly over the past four years.

Collins said he learned his training techniques from Charles Kirchner, a retired district police officer now living near Spartanburg, S.C.

In 1970, Kirchner was one of the first in the country to train a bomb-sniffing dog. He recalled that Collins, then a bomb technician, approached him a few years later, asking him for help with training a dog for the Prince George's County Fire Department.

"It was a combination of two of his strong interests," dogs and explosives, Kirchner said.

Pub Date: 3/31/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.