2018-04-07 / News

George Goodman and Bonny the Bomb-sniffing Dog Assist in Austin

By Stephanie Fortino

George Goodman and his canine partner, Bonny, are frequent visitors to Mackinac Island, as Mr. Goodman visits his parents, seasonal residents George and Judith Goodman. The team is headquartered at ATF’s Detroit Field Division. (Goodman family photograph) George Goodman and his canine partner, Bonny, are frequent visitors to Mackinac Island, as Mr. Goodman visits his parents, seasonal residents George and Judith Goodman. The team is headquartered at ATF’s Detroit Field Division. (Goodman family photograph) The bond between a federal agent and a specially trained canine companion is strong.

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobaccos, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) special agent George Goodman of Dexter and his five-year-old chocolate Labrador retriever Bonny have worked together on many cases, including the recent series of bombings in Austin, Texas, in March.

For nearly three weeks, the residents of Austin and the surrounding area were tormented by a series of bombings. As part of the emergency response, the ATF director called for all available resources, including canine officers, to help.

“All of us around the country, we all offered our assistance,” said Mr. Goodman. “We all dropped what we were doing and started heading there. This is a big deal. This is a national security issue. We’ve got to stop this guy.”

Following a 22-hour drive from Michigan to Texas, he and Bonny arrived on the scene Tuesday, March 20.

The bombings left two men dead, Anthony House, 39, and Draylen Mason, 17, and others injured. Police eventually tracked down the suspected bomber, Mark Conditt, who blew himself up as police closed in on his vehicle Wednesday, March 21.

The investigative team featured between 200 and 300 federal agents, Mr. Goodman estimated. As part of a coordinated effort, the canine units followed investigative leads, searching sheds, houses, cars, and other possible crime scenes for explosive material. Each agency offers different expertise in a situation like the Austin bombings, he said, as they work together to find the perpetrator.

“You stay in your own lane, but yet when it is time to come together as a task force, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “You’re working for the same cause.”

Mr. Goodman and Bonny collected post-blast information and searched the area for vehicles, houses, and other places that might be linked to the suspect. They made sure there were no other explosive devices or material at the scenes that could pose threats to the public.

“Post blast, once something has gone, ‘boom!,’ the dog can find the pieces and parts to put it together again,” he said.

In addition to episodes like a serial bomber, the ATF assists state and local police with search warrants, arrest warrants, and felony traffic stops. Being assigned to the ATF’s Detroit Field Division, Mr. Goodman and Bonny often work with the Detroit Police Department Homicide Unit, looking for guns and shell casings. Shell casings are a critical component of a crime scene, he said, because they feature markings from the barrel of the gun that are as specific as a fingerprint. The National Integrated Ballistic Information Network is a database filled with such shell casing information from around the country, which helps identify a suspected shooter.

“The most minute piece of evidence could be the part that solves the crime,” he said.

The team also frequently serves on protection details for many high-profile events like University of Michigan football games, the North American Auto Show in Detroit, and once helped secure a conference at Grand Hotel.

Mr. Goodman attended Michigan State University and was graduated with a degree in criminal justice. After working at a county sheriff’s office for a time, he sought a career with ATF. During his 31 years with the bureau, Mr. Goodman has worked in various specialized positions as a street agent, on the tactical operations unit, and in firearms training. In 2003, he transitioned to the canine unit, which was a welcome change from the technology heavy tactical operations.

“Personally, I still have a flip phone,” he said of his use of technology, “so some of that stuff was kind of beyond my expertise.”

His first canine partner was a black Labrador retriever named Haiku who served with him for 10 years. Haiku absolutely loved to eat, Mr. Goodman recalled, but was still small for lab. Most dogs retire from the ATF when they are nine years old, but some dogs can work for a 10th year if they are happy and healthy. Haiku was 11.5 when she retired, making her one of the oldest dogs ever for ATF.

Bomb-sniffing dogs are put through a 10-week training course as puppies, where they are trained to sniff for explosive materials. Food is used as a reward after each time the dog smells explosives, so they learn to associate the smells with a reward. They also learn how to search structures and vehicles before being introduced to their ATF special agent canine handler.

The relationship between the handler and dog begins with a 13-week training program in Virginia. Mr. Goodman first met Bonny when she was a year old and the two trained together every day, time that is important for developing a strong bond, he said.

As soon as the pair finishes training, they immediately get to work. Bonny and Mr. Goodman are almost always together. Since Bonny is trained using a food reward system, every time she eats she must first perform a work-related task. Always maintaining this food reward is critical to keeping her in top working per formance, Mr. Goodman said. He and his family live on a farm in Dexter, where Bonny enjoys playing with the family’s other animals, which include chickens, pigs, and ducks.

“At night when we’re off, [Bonny] comes home and she’s a pet,” he said.

Bonny also accompanies Mr. Goodman on most vacations. The team is always on-call, he said, recalling a time when they were on vacation in Las Vegas and ended up assisting in an explosion at a hotel.

“That’s the nature of the beast,” he said. “Most of the time, I love it.”

Mr. Goodman expects to bring Bonny to Mackinac Island a few times this summer on vacation when he visits his parents, George and Judith Goodman.

When an ATF canine is ready to retire, their handlers have the first option to adopt the dogs. Haiku joined the Goodman family upon her retirement, and she lived to be just over 15 years old. She passed away about 18 months ago, finally succumbing to old age.

Just like their canine partners, ATF special agents also “age out” of serving, he said. With about four years left to go before he must retire, Mr. Goodman believes he has more work left to do.

“I want to help,” he said. “That’s why I went into it in the first place, and it’s why I’m in it now.”

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