Coastie explosives detection canine retires after 49 “dog years” of service

BZ, Ferro!

“Coast Guard canines are a rank higher than their handlers,” said Coleman. “The idea behind that is that the handler works for the canine, not the other way around.”

Any dog owner will confirm the truth of that!

49 dog years of service

Chief Petty Officer Ferro, a Belgian Malinois and military working dog, retires after nine years of service. U.S Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Manda M. Emery.

Chief Petty Officer Ferro, an explosives detection canine , has served in the Coast Guard for nine years alongside his handler Petty Officer 1st Class Shane Coleman. In a ceremony held June 10 at Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team Galveston, Texas, Ferro was formally retired into a life of rest and relaxation.

Ferro and Coleman’s partnership spans nearly a decade. Ferro, a Belgian Malinois, was hand-picked as a puppy to become a Coast Guard canine , and underwent several exams. Ferro was given a prey, hunt, drive test to see if he would have the ability to work in explosives detection. He was also given a rigorous health exam, as well as other tests to ensure he would be able to work in high-stress environments, said Coleman.

Meanwhile, Coleman was selected to become a Coast Guard canine handler. At that time, Coleman was stationed at Maritime Safety and Security Team Kings Bay, Ga. When a solicitation came out for interested petty officers to apply for the Coast Guard’s canine program, Coleman knew this was the opportunity he had been waiting for.

Petty Officer 1st Class Shane Coleman receives a shadow box gift on behalf of Chief Petty Officer Ferro, a Belgian Malinois. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Andrew Kendrick.

“I had a high desire to work with dogs because I’ve had dogs all my life,” said Coleman. I thought it would be a rewarding job to get in to. I would be the forefront of national security with a United States Coast Guard explosive detector canine.”Ferro passed all the tests and at 14 months, in October 2004, was partnered with Coleman at the Customs and Border Protection Canine Enforcement Training Center in Front Royal, Va. While at the training center, Coleman would learn to master dog handling. His canine counterpart would be trained to detect explosives.

Today, when Ferro and Coleman are together, the handler-canine bond is apparent. According to Coleman, this wasn’t always the case.

“Ferro was a challenging dog to work with,” said Coleman. “I knew in my heart that I was going to be the only one who would be able to handle him.”

It was during the second week of training when Coleman was assigned two dogs: Max, a yellow Labrador retriever, and Ferro. He was not given a choice breed.

“You are initially assigned two dogs, and you don’t get a choice as to the breed,” said Coleman. “They give you two dogs to see how and if you bond with one of the dogs.”

Coleman vividly remembers his first meeting with Ferro and Max.

“Max was a spaced-out Lab,” said Coleman. “He was sitting in his kennel without a care in the world.”

Ferro, on the other hand, was far from carefree.

“Ferro was at the back of his cage with his ears pinned back, the hair on his back sticking up, and he was growling and snarling at everyone,” said Coleman. “At first I thought, ‘I hope I don’t get that dog.’” He was mean-looking, but I do remember that he was a handsome dog.”

Aside from Ferro’s rugged good looks, Coleman thought Ferro’s name was indicative to the canine’s personality. The name Ferro was derived from the periodic table of elements. The symbol Fe on the periodic table of elements means iron, so the name Ferro, fits to the canine’s build and personality, said Coleman.

As the weeks passed at the training center, Ferro developed his detection skills. He retained his aggressive behavior and lashed out at Coleman. At Week 16, Coleman went to get Ferro out of his kennel for a day of training. Coleman said Ferro did not want to get out of his kennel. In a split second, Ferro attacked Coleman, biting Coleman from finger tips to shoulders on both arms. The wounds required Coleman to seek emergency medical attention, which resulted in several dozen stitches, said Coleman. The scars are still visible today.

Later, a subsequent attack resulted in another round of stitches. This second attack was grounds for the director of the training center to pull Ferro from the training program.

“I asked the director of the training center to reconsider and allow me to work with the dog some more,” said Coleman. “I felt that Ferro was misunderstood. He needed a little more time to develop to his full potential.”

Coleman’s hunch about Ferro paid off. At week 17, Coleman selected Ferro as his partner, and the pair graduated from the training center.

“I knew he was the one,” said Coleman. “I was the only one he changed his behavior toward. I was the only one he would let get him out of his kennel.”

Upon graduation, Ferro was given the rank of chief petty officer.

Chief Petty Officer Ferro’s handler, Petty Officer 1st Class Shane Coleman, has been partnered with Ferro for the duration of the K-9′s career. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Andrew Kendrick.

“Coast Guard canines are a rank higher than their handlers,” said Coleman. “The idea behind that is that the handler works for the canine, not the other way around.”Ferro and Coleman were sent back to MSST Kings Bay to work as a team and spent six years deploying to various locations throughout the U.S. augmenting Coast Guard missions of port safety and security, said Coleman.

In June 2010 Ferro and Coleman were transferred to MSST Galveston. The same type of unit with the same type of mission, but in a different location. This time the duo found themselves on the Gulf Coast. While at MSST Galveston, Ferro and Coleman traveled to the U.S. border with Mexico several times and worked with other Department of Homeland Security agencies to train for mission readiness.

“Our work with other agencies, including law enforcement canine handlers and Transportation Security Administration canine handlers, has been rewarding and challenging,” said Coleman. “Our relationship with the agencies was strong. They were open to getting know how the Coast Guard works.”

After three successful years at MSST Galveston, Coleman knew it would be time to retire Ferro. It was a hard decision for Coleman to make, but he knew it was time for Ferro to enjoy the remainder of his dog years living a spoiled life.

“On Aug. 4, 2013, Ferro will be 10. For a working dog that is old,” said Coleman. “He still has a lot of spunk and energy, but it is time for him to enjoy retirement.”

When Ferro and Coleman are at work, the bond between the pair is unrivaled. Ferro only has eyes for his handler. His honey brown-colored eyes constantly scan for Coleman, and his ears are always on alert for Coleman’s next command. And Coleman is just as attached to Ferro, as Ferro is attached to Coleman.

“We have been partners for almost a decade,” said Coleman. “I know his every move. He knows my every move. I have been with this dog 24 hours per day, seven days per week for nine years, both at work and at home. I even take him on leave when I can. We go deer hunting together, we go duck hunting together and we go fishing together. He is going to be the ring bearer in my wedding .”

Ferro’s retirement ceremony served a dual purpose: Ferro’s service life was celebrated and the command at MSST Galveston said farewell and following seas to Coleman. Coleman has been reassigned to Coast Guard Cutter Vigorous, a 210-foot medium endurance cutter homeported in Cape May, N.J.

“It is going to be tough knowing I will be out on patrol doing law enforcement missions and he won’t be there with me,” said Coleman. “That’s on the work side of things. On the personal side of things, I am used to having him with me all the time.”

During Ferro and Coleman’s partnership, the pair has traveled more than 400,000 road miles together. They have been sent on missions to 21 states, including Puerto Rico, and taken three cross-country flights together, all for the sake of protecting the country’s ports, waterways and borders, said Coleman.

“He’s had a good life, and we’ve had an outstanding partnership,” said Coleman. “I know that while I’m out to sea, that he will be taken care of by my future wife. We joke around saying he will become mommy’s baby, and I’m certain that will be the case.”