She’s no longer a limber pup. And her sniffing days are over.
Lacy, a nine-year-old Black Lab, is having a bit of trouble jumping up on airplane seats and stretching upwards to sniff overhead compartments for bombs at Midway Airport.
So her masters at the Transportation Security Administration last week forced her into retirement.
On Tuesday, after an eight-year career, Lacy was brought back for one last ceremonial sniff.
Her wet nose breezed past the pant legs and carry-on bags of travelers who cast quizzical glances at television cameramen recording the interaction.
She fixated on one passenger who was carrying a decoy — an inert explosive device planted by the TSA to keep bomb sniffing dogs on their toes.
A chew toy was offered as reward.
Nearby, a few dozen airport security personnel, including three other dogs, formed parallel lines; they (the people) clapped as Lacy sauntered past.
The reason behind the unusual pomp and circumstance: Lacy was one of the first dogs in Chicago solely trained though a pilot program — which is now standard — to find explosives.
She’s never found an actual bomb. But no dog has ever found an actual bomb at either of Chicago’s two airports, as far as Midway’s TSA chief Kevin McCarthy knows.
Ownership of Lacy has been transferred from the TSA to her handler, Diana Kremer.
By dog standards, Lacy has lived a spartan existence with Kremer, her two teenage sons and her husband at their west suburban home since she her sniffing career began.
She hasn’t been able to play with any dog toys during her off hours because any such fun might water down motivation for the chew toy she receives as a reward for performing well on the job.
Kremer couldn’t bring Lacy on vacation; she had to kennel the dog before leaving town.
Those rules are now out the window.
And Lacy, who enjoys a friendly rub, will never again have to wear her vest that proclaims in orange neon: “DO NOT PET.”
There are no pension benefits for TSA dogs. Kremer will have to personally cover the canine’s living expenses, but she’s happy to do it.
For Kremer, one memory of Lacy tops all others.
Years ago, while searching cargo, the pair wandered upon a box of baby chickens.
“She sniffed all of the baby chicks to make sure they didn’t have any explosives on them,” Kremer recalled with a laugh.
“She’s such a gentle, gentle dog … she’s the best partner you could ask for.”
The cuteness factor of the dog can can cause people to forget the serious and potentially deadly job of explosive detection.
Kremer recalled handling potential threats with Lacy by her side: “I feel confident going into a situation like that, and I’m putting my life in her hands, and I feel very confident doing that.”
Kremer now must get to know and achieve the same level of trust with her new partner: Jazz, another Black Lab.
On a side note: a rookie bomb-sniffing dog that had been pooping in the terminals and concourses at Midway last year has conquered her jittery nerves. The Sun-Times reported on the dog’s troubles in November.
“She’s past it,” McCarthy said. “Thing of the past.”