Christine Spigai

Countless people shopped at the Nation’s malls this holiday season in search of just the right gifts for family and friends. MSA Security® Canine Handler Joe Rios and three-year-old German Shepherd Zeus also spent many days at a prominent retail shopping center in a New York City borough – carrying out searches of a different kind.


They are one of MSA’s more than 900 Detection Canine Teams working across the globe to keep the public safe from the threat of explosives and firearms. Joe has been a handler with MSA for many years, just recently pairing with Zeus. In November, they completed comprehensive and rigorous explosive detection training at MSA Security’s state-of-the-art training facility in Windsor, CT. Like every MSA canine, Zeus was imprinted on all five families of commercial explosives, as well as homemade explosives (HMEs) like TATP and HMTD. Joe recalls having an instant connection with his partner who he proudly says graduated at the top of his class.


The team is currently deployed throughout New York City to successfully address the threat of IEDs at high-profile targets, including sports and entertainment venues, commercial buildings and retail malls. In addition to searching for explosives and clearing unattended bags, their presence has proven to serve as a deterrent to crime at the mall where they work. Joe credits Zeus with a high level of confidence as a young bomb dog and believes it allows them to successfully pivot between different deployment environments.


“From the moment we met, I knew Zeus was special. He is extremely intelligent with a natural drive and desire to work. The regular change in site view keeps him engaged and at the top of his game,” explains Joe. How they perform searches depends on the deployment. When conducting vehicle and delivery screening, Joe leads the detailed search. Moving to a stadium or retail mall environment, Zeus takes the lead in tracking explosive odor throughout large crowds. Whether in real-life scenarios or training, this bomb dog’s reward for “sitting” on explosive odor is a play toy – but not just any play toy. “As a German Shepherd, he is a play-reward dog, and the tug-of-war KONG is his absolute favorite. He never gets tired of it,” says Joe who served as a U.S. Army National Guardsman for eight years before joining MSA.


The National Guard, which can be controlled by both state and federal leaders, is an essential component of the U.S. military that is empowered to respond to domestic crises and overseas conflicts. Well-trained and well-equipped, they often serve side by side with active-duty military personnel. During his time with the Guard, Joe assisted with emergency response and recovery operations following many domestic events, including natural disasters.


For this team with active workdays, returning home means chill time with the family. While Joe grabs a comfortable spot on the couch, Zeus assumes his favorite position on his cozy blanket with front paws crossed. Relaxation never lasts too long though. Like any star student who loves to learn, Zeus is heading back to the classroom this month with his handler so they can train as an MSA Firearms Detection Canine Team in Pennsylvania with MSA partner, Shallow Creek Kennels. We look forward to catching up with them again afterwards!

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