TSA’s oldest and cutest bomb-sniffing dog, retires so he can enjoy being a dog for the 1st time

Eebbers and his handler, Carney, learned their trade at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas, which trains approximately 325 dogs for the TSA and other government agencies each year.

Eebbers, the TSA’s cutest and oldest working bomb-sniffing canine, is retiring after nearly ten years of service. According to NPR, he was the agency’s most senior K9. In August, Eebbers rose to prominence after winning the TSA’s “2022 Cutest Canine Contest.”

His retirement party was a treat-filled send-off at his home station of Minneapolis-St.Paul International Airport on Wednesday. The 11-year-old vizsla-Labrador mix was the last of the TSA’s Puppy Program dogs still working for the TSA at the time of his retirement. He was born into the program at Texas’ Lackland Air Force Base. He was named Eebbers after American Army Pvt. James Ebbers, who died in 2002 while serving with the 551st Military Police Company in Djibouti, Africa (based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky).

According to TSA, “He stays very active every day, even during the cold Minnesota winters, and he loves swimming in any of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes in the summer,” In addition to his role as an airport security canine at MSP sniffing for explosives, Eebbers assisted with security at major sporting events such as two Super Bowls, the Indianapolis 500, an NCAA National Championship football game, and the Special Olympics World Games.

Eebbers and other passenger screening dogs are trained to sniff for explosives or explosive materials among passengers, typically in security checkpoint lines, and to alert their handlers if they detect anything out of the ordinary. Although they are friendly, the agency emphasizes that they are working dogs who should only be touched and fed by their handlers. They are constantly tested to ensure their suitability for use in crowded airports. “I know that when they’re out there on the checkpoint, I feel safer,” Marty Robinson, TSA’s federal security director for Minnesota, told the Star Tribune. “Our biggest threat is explosives coming through, and our canine teams are the best defense against that.”

“His ability to search out his trained odors amazes me every day,” said Jean Carney, Eebbers’ handler and lifelong partner.

According to Carney, who is also retiring, because of the rigors of the job, most dogs leave their high-pressure jobs when they are 7 or 8 years old. 

“I want him to enjoy his last few years just being a dog,” said Carney. Carney said she didn’t want Eebbers to retire on a “low note”, saying, “It’s inevitable he was going to come to a point where he was going to start slowing down and maybe start not being as proficient as he was when he was younger,” she said, according to CBS affiliate KENS 5.

Eebbers and Carney learned their trade at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas, which trains approximately 325 dogs for the TSA and other agencies each year. There are over 1,000 such teams nationwide, including eight at MSP, and they provide an important layer of protection for the traveling public. One such squad is the one that screens dogs like Eebbers.

Carney stated that as Eebbers grew older, he became more mature. “He’s gentle and polite. This is what he was bred to do.” Eebbers seemed to love his job, given how excited he would be for his routine. “At 3:30 a.m. he’s waiting at the stairs,” ready to go to work, Carney said. When describing Eebbers when he was younger, Carney said, “He was such a puppy, so tall and lanky, and he had these great big dark eyes. I thought, ‘Man, this dog is going to be a handful.'”

Eebbers and Carney were surprised at the celebration on their last day of work. His “do not pet” vest was replaced with a regular collar and leash, allowing him to receive pet attention from coworkers and admirers. He was showered with stuffed animals and bomb-shaped cakes, as well as medals in his and Carney’s honor.

“It was the pinnacle of what we’ve worked for all of these years. Just to let him be the dog that he deserves to be,” Carney told KENS 5. “He’s worked so hard all of these years. He’s been so dedicated, and such a hard worker and the only thing he asked is [for] that toy.” 

So, what does Eebbers have in store for him in his post-retirement bliss? Carney prioritizes a swim in Iowa’s Lake Okoboji and a long walk with his sister Etti (who herself is retired from the FBI). Eebbers and his fans have a lot more to look forward to. The TSA, for example, will announce the release of its 2023 Canine Calendar later this year, with Eebbers on the cover!