‘Secret Service Dogs’

Those who love dogs write the best books about them. This becomes evident with Maria Goodavage’s latest book, “Secret Service Dogs.” It is filled with colorful, funny, dramatic, and heartfelt anecdotes intertwined with a history of this special unit.

She decided to write this book after researching and finding there was very little out there about the Secret Service agency’s canine program. After two bestsellers about military dogs, she commented, “I thought it would be fascinating to shift gears and look at the dogs that protect the president of the United States, the first family, presidential candidates, and even the Pope when he visits the United States. I was surprised and impressed by how integral Secret Service dogs are to the many circles of protection for the president.”

Right from the very beginning readers understand the heroism of these men/women and their canine partners. Another hero, Clint Hill, who put his life on the line as he jumped on the JFK car in Dallas, wrote the forward. Goodavage feels honored that Clint Hill contributed to the book. “I met him on a boat in San Francisco. After the Lucca book I was thinking of what I should do next. I talked to him about writing a book on Secret Service dogs and handlers and he was so gracious in offering to put me in touch with the right people. After reading an advance copy he offered to write the forward.”

Never before has anyone been given the access that this author has by the Secret Service. Readers are taken into this world that has been “secretive” for many years. It is informative about the different types of dogs used to guard the White House and the President, the First Family, and dignitaries. The Explosive Detection Team travels worldwide with the President. Emergency Response Dogs is part of a “SWAT” team, where they would attack an intruder. Tactical dogs protect the president and the first family inside the White House grounds. Floppy-eared dogs aka as Friendly dogs patrol outside the White House. They are named for their ability to be affable to those people who are walking or viewing the White House from the outside.

The incident that brought attention to these dogs was when someone jumped the White House fence. This book explains all the details surrounding it and how the Belgian Malinois, Hurricane, became a hero. After being punched and kicked by the intruder he still was able to subdue him and had the man give up with the help of another canine, Jardan. It is through stories like these that readers gain a good understanding of how the extensive training allows these dogs to risk their lives to protect the first family and the president.

But there are other stories as well. When President Ronald Reagan, an apparent dog lover, decided to pet one of the dogs he almost had his hand bitten off, after coming out for a photo op with the agents and their dogs. He reached out to shake the Agent’s hand, but the canine at his side stared up at the President and showed his teeth. Luckily, the handler put the dog at ease, and nothing came of the incident.

Some might wonder how does the First Family’s dog interact with Secret Service dogs. The author addresses it within a chapter. Noting that the handlers were very vigilant about the pets of the first family they tried to avoid any confrontation. She recounts such an incident involving President George W. Bush’s dog Barney, a Scottish Terrier. Thinking he is the alpha dog he charged at the ERT dog, Oscar, a Belgian Malinois. The handler scooped Oscar up high in his arms and avoided a major incident although Barney did bite his tail.

Besides these anecdotes she also explains the policies of this unit. One that appears to make no sense is the one and done. As Goodavage notes, “The ‘One and done’ has been a policy of the Secret Service’s canine program since the beginning. It means that as a handler, you get one dog during your career. Usually, when the dog retires, so does their human partner. The Canine Unit is popular, and the idea is that this rule would give others a chance. But many handlers feel, and I tend to agree, that you’re losing incredible talent this way. You want the best of the best when it comes to protecting the president and other key world figures. Deeply experienced handlers can be tremendous assets. Fortunately, there have been plenty of exceptions to the one-and-done policy with a few on their second dog after their first had a long and fruitful career before retirement.”

“Secret Service Dogs” by Maria Goodavage is an interesting insight into this unit. It is eye opening since very little has been written. Readers will learn about the relationship between handlers and their partners.

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About the Author

Elise Cooper

Elise writes book reviews that always include a short author interview.