MANSFIELD: Sniffing Out Safety

One of the two careers that I would have loved, had I not been a journalist, is dog trainer, and the other is chef. So it was with great interest that I read a New York Times article about the critical worldwide shortage of trained bomb-sniffing dogs. The demand is currently so high that detection dogs can sell for as high as $25,000.

And I can imagine these highly skilled animals turning their noses up at anything less than steak or lobster for dinner. Nah, that’s the great thing about dogs, they are not snooty like cats. They simply love to be rewarded for doing a good job.

But it seems that training dogs for this critical task is another skill Americans no longer possess since most of the dogs now are bred and trained in Eastern Europe. Security experts warn that the supply of these dogs is dwindling worldwide and that the United States is especially vulnerable — probably because of our odorous and numbskull foreign policy decisions since the end of World War II.

One reason for the lack of dog training in this country, I imagine, is that the training arc is so long, shortsighted American youth are too impatient with a process that doesn’t give instant gratification — or feel that such a career is beneath them. So, instead, they simply lie on the couch in their mamma’s basement and watch reruns of Game of Thrones.

But there are some citizens that are acquiring skills at dog training: Ohio prisoners. Thanks to a program — The W.A.G.S. Service Dog Training Academy — run by Wendy Crann and her daughter Sera Nelson, men in a couple of Ohio penal institutions are learning how to train dogs for all kinds of tasks to assist disabled children (currently there’s a two-year waiting list for a child to acquire a dog). Other organizations train dogs for sniffing out cancers and other diseases in humans where dogs act as an early warning system since they are able to detect mutant cells much sooner than by laboratory methods.

“W.A.G.S.” stands for “Working Animals Giving Service,” and it’s a long-established fact that caring for animals can change the brain chemistry of some of the most hardened criminals behind bars. Pets can be critical to the rehabilitation process, but nonsensical pressure from the public has tended to make prison officials gun shy about establishing programs that might be viewed as “being soft on crime.” I guess these wrongheaded folks want convicts to do the hardest time possible, so when they get out they are of a frame of mind to crack the skull of the first person they meet on the street.

When I first met Wendy Crann and she told me about the two-year waiting list for service dogs for kids, plus that fact that some of the men she trains in prison have little hope or opportunity of practicing their newly acquired skills upon their release, I immediately began thinking about how to set up a dog-training facility in Ward 7 where I reside.

The news of the critical shortage of bomb-sniffing dogs in the U.S. (Wendy tells me that training a dog to detect one scent is as easy as training them to detect another) seals the deal for me. This is the perfect reentry program, one that helps to guarantee the safety of our country to boot. Who could find fault with that?

All this takes is political will.

From CoolCleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier Frazier’s From Behind The Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate is available in hardback. Snag your copy and have it signed by the author at

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One Response to “MANSFIELD: Sniffing Out Safety”

  1. Lynne Dufenetz

    One of the reasons for the shortage is the almost exclusive use in this country of German Shepard dogs, which are prone to health problems & have a short working life. In Isreal, during WWII the Canaan dog began to be used beacuase of its hardiness in a harsh climate. Though a bit harder to train, they have a natural abilty for scentwork & are active until 14 yrs or longer.

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