The government imports hundreds of untrained bomb- and drug-sniffing dogs from Europe each year for as much as $4,535 apiece, four times the price charged by American breeders, says a federal report out today.
The high canine price tags are prompting outrage from congressional and government spending critics and U.S. breeders, who say taxpayer money is being wasted.
"What kind of dogs are these -- gold-plated?" asked Leslie Paige of Citizens Against Government Waste.
The Homeland Security Department's inspector general (IG) found that the Customs and Border Protection division spent $1.46million on 322 untrained dogs between April 2006 and June 2007. CBP has more than 1,000 trained dogs working at the nation's borders, airports and seaports, and the number is likely to grow.
The report called the figure "reasonable" and "comparable" to what other government agencies pay. The Secret Service, which has 75 dogs, pays an average of $4,533 for its dogs. The Department of Defense, which gets a discount because it buys more dogs than other agencies, pays between $3,300 and $3,800 per dog, the IG found.
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., called it "irresponsible" that the government is spending so much, even before it pays $15,000 per canine team for 13 to 15 weeks of training.
A typical purebred in the USA sells for about $1,200. A show dog could go for as much as $2,000.
"Using canines ... is smart security," Thompson says. But "paying $4,000 for an untrained European canine seems excessive, a waste of taxpayer money and does not support the breeders we have right here at home."
Lee Titus, director of CBP's Canine Enforcement Training Center in Front Royal, Va., where the dogs are trained, said 90% of the dogs come from overseas because Europe has a long history of breeding dogs with the proper temperament for security duties. U.S. breeders, he says, breed mostly "pretty" show dogs or pets.
Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan says the "bloodlines from Europe make the dogs very desirable for us."
The government, which puts its requests for dogs out for competitive bidding, buys Belgian Malinoises, Labradors and shepherds.
Michelle Denson, who breeds Belgian Malinois dogs in Ocala, Fla., says her dogs are no different from European dogs. She says she has sold some to police departments for $1,000. "There's plenty of American breeders who breed these kinds of dogs," she says, "and they don't charge this exorbitant amount of money."