Man’s Best Friend

It did not take long for the corporate forces exploiting September 11th to reach the transportation industry. Already, the Federal transportation budget is calling for an increase of eight percent for improved security and safety. The USDOT’s proposed FY 2003 budget requests $59.3 billion – increased substantially over prior years to help provide improved security and safety for the country’s overall transportation system.

Naturally, the largely-unsubsidized motorcoach industry will receive little of those funds earmarked for security. Yet our decentralized structure is like to render our costs for it disproportionately greater than those of many other transportation modes for the same or similar levels of protection. While one incident of terrorism – in any bus sector – could begin a spiral of panic which guts the motorcoach industry, we are at greater risk of hemorrhaging slowly from the costs of needless gizmos and paraphernalia. If we think clearly, and employ the same imagination and common sense which helped the industry grow, survive and prosper, this need not happen. The example below provides an illustration, and an appropriate starting point for discussion.

Man’s Best Friend

Which of the following security devices is practical, reliable and affordable for a bus or coach:

[A. Soldier with Machine Gun]      [B. Pile of Computer Equipment]      [C. Big Dog]

Here are some clues:

  • It is an immediate, simple, well-recognized, proven and widely-accepted solution
  • It is already used for this purpose in many developed and undeveloped countries
  • It has minimal operating costs
  • It can smell minute quantities of anything from chemical weapons, plastique and handgun oil to fuel leaks, monoxide and whiskey – even after their sources have been removed
  • It can understand and respond to dozens of verbal and non-verbal commands (although only a handful are needed for basic guarding purposes)
  • It eats cheap food, can sleep on the coach (or share a room with the driver), and can control its restroom urges better than many passengers
  • It is self-cleaning
  • It can be trained to attack a human being without regard for its own safety
  • It can help track down and identity offenders
  • It does not lie, can be trained to not cheat, and requires minimal monitoring
  • It has no work rules, cares nothing about seniority, and requires minimal regulation
  • It can sense and react to hostility, and utters a distinct and reliable warning response
  • It can see and hear significantly better than human beings in range, pitch and volume
  • It can recognize and remember practically anyone or anything it has ever seen, often for years
  • It listens closely to almost anyone or anything getting its attention
  • It retains much of what it learns indefinitely
  • It can detect objects and motion in dim light
  • It can sleep in mismatched and irregular segments
  • It can run for miles
  • It can last for years, often more than a decade
  • It does not present a recycling problem (used units are bio-degradable)
  • Its repair costs are minimal, and maintenance intervals infrequent
  • It can operate effectively in extreme temperature ranges
  • It can sense fear and malevolence
  • It can physically overpower most strong adults, even those with weapons
  • It will continue to fight when wounded
  • It can identify, hunt and gather food, wood and other objects needed in an emergency
  • It can fetch, carry and drag things – including large objects like full-size passengers
  • It can communicate both simple and elaborate messages audibly and via gestures, pointing, positioning and movement
  • It is voice-activated and, thus, easy to control
  • It can jump, crawl, roll, swim and climb a variety of terrains and man-made objects
  • It will not likely overload a motorcoach’s GVWR
  • It does not require a seat

During her racing years, Susan Butcher, four-time winner of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race (from Anchorage to Nome), owned 300 dogs. From inside her cabin, she could identify every one by its bark, and on the trail, understand the nuances of every dog’s fatigue, hunger and pain. Her dogs made distinct and different sounds for a range of scenarios – including a different announcement when confronting a male versus a female human (wearing artic outdoor clothing)! And eight of them could pull a sled – with a rider, equipment and seven days of food – more than a thousand miles in eight days.

In simple terms, dogs are marvels of efficiency and performance. They are also marvels of versatility and improvisation: Dogs can find their way home across thousands of miles of territory they have never seen. They can guide and assist blind individuals across complex, signalized intersections. They can herd sheep, cattle and horses. They will attack wolves, bears and lions to protect their handlers and their families. And they have been trained to anticipate grand mal seizures and earthquakes. Not only are many dogs’ senses exponentially greater than ours, but they appear to possess some we either do not have, do not know how to use, or have not yet found.

In our commercial society, of course, the profits from selling, leasing or promoting such a solution are limited and finite, particularly as the solution is impervious to planned obsolescence: The product improves, rather than declines, with age and mileage. And improved models require generations to evolve, mitigating the need for frequent replacement or upgrading. Of course, they have some shortcomings – like bad breath, drooling, an impulse to chase cats, a fondness for digging and shredding, a love of garbage, and unbridled over-enthusiasm – not to mention poor table manners and woeful computer skills. But these problems represent limited costs with respect to the benefits, even though the profiteers of useless technology are certain to accentuate the negative.

Security and Beyond

Bus security can be viewed in more ways than this overview can possibly encompass. But it breaks down essentially into detection and deterrence inside the passenger compartment, beneath it, and around it. Largely because of a dog’s superior sense of smell, luggage security is puppy’s play. On or entering the coach, dogs can not only smell problems, but sense them. A non-passenger will not only not smell like a passenger, but will also not act like one. Apart from such core capabilities and instincts, the ancillary services a dog can provide to motorcoach drivers and passengers, both security- and non-security-related, are considerable:

  • It can guard the coach and its contents during rest stops, sightseeing activities and even sleepovers (with a simple pet door installed at the bottom of the stepwell, it can guard both the interior and exterior)
  • It can enhance and enforce passenger management – for example, keeping them out of the aisles during acceleration, deceleration, braking and turning
  • It can protect the driver from belligerent passengers and dangerous intruders
  • It can keep passengers from distracting the driver – including barking or growling at rambunctious schoolchildren or intoxicated gamblers
  • It can protect passengers from more aggressive fellow-passengers
  • It can escort selected passengers to and from the coach
  • It can find and fetch missing passengers (like someone lingering in a restaurant)
  • It can provide comfort, pleasure and amusement to passengers – and rarely minds being touched almost endlessly
  • It can assist in vehicle evacuation – including finding and removing passengers
  • It can sense changes in vehicle and driver movement, or the lack of them – effectively providing an ancillary fatigue alarm
  • It can protect schoolchildren from dangerous mistakes – like crossing in front of the vehicle

Costs and Choices

For security purposes, all breeds of dogs are not created equal. In terms of territorial sense, aggressiveness, bulk, strength, courage, and resistance to counterattack – critical characteristics for security work – the top 10-ranked dogs are: Bullmastiff; Doberman pinscher; Rottweiler, Komondor; Puli; giant Schnauzer; German Shepherd; Rhodesian Ridgeback; Kuvasz, and American Staffordshire Terrier. Lassie did not even make the cut. But one of Toto’s cousins did. Even more interesting is the ranking of the least-effective watchdogs – a list topped by bloodhounds, and followed by Saint Bernard (#3), bulldog (#5), Irish Wolfhound (#8) and Siberian Husky (#11). Presumably for a mix of profit maximization and snobbery, information about the performance of mixed breeds is far less documented. However, some of the most successful trainers have developed their own sub-breeds or “private brands” – commonly including Doberman Pincher. Regardless, one suspects the choice of junkyard dog is not solely economic, nor is the choice of security dog solely biological.

For optimum-performance animals, capital costs are not trivial. These costs largely reflect the degree and range of training – including training for the dog’s owners. There are obvious administrative costs, including licensing, vaccination and record-keeping. And both time and cost are associated with housing/kenneling, feeding, hygiene and grooming, waste disposal, health and medical care, and exercise. Of course, many of these can occur in the dogs’ off-duty roles as pets and babysitters – which most law enforcement officers familiar with them have found to be a considerable fringe benefit. For motorcoach drivers, access to dogs both on- and off-duty might even contribute to job retention.

Placing capital and operating costs in perspective, both economies of scale and versatility are significant, particularly where large facilities are involved. With their speed, endurance, hearing and smell, dogs can patrol expansive areas, as well as confined spaces (like luggage compartments and the space beneath the coach), as well as areas too dangerous for security personnel to traverse alone. Thus, a single officer and patrol dog can replace several security officers. With respect to psychological deterrence, perpetrators know that, if and when detected by dogs, they cannot out-fight, out-run, out-bluff, trick, frighten or hide from them. Thus, dogs can prevent and deter problems as well as detect, confront and manage them.

Marketing and Public Relations Opportunities

It does not trivialize the need for security to point out that addressing it – much less before the problem manifests itself – presents enormous marketing and public relations opportunities. “A Dog on Every Bus” might prove a comforting and welcome slogan to both potential and repeat customers. One could argue, at least nowadays, it is also more appropriate than many others – especially for those 5,000 or so motorcoaches already picturing this very animal on their exteriors, while encouraging passengers to “Leave the Driving to Us.”

The label “Man’s Best Friend” was not coined by Madison Avenue or Capitol Hill. It was earned through millennia of experience, dedication and results. Dogs are trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave – and in their own way, clean and reverent. Few objects in modern life deliver the combination of skill, reliability and trust of a good dog, much less run on cheap food and minimal appreciation.

For years, motorcoach industry leaders have been urging their colleagues not to lower fares, and searching for amenities we might add to justify raising them. Maybe even something our passengers can see, hear, touch and respect. “Rrrrfff!”

Dogs will not save the motorcoach industry. But our failure to consider such solutions may kill it. Before we allow the telecommunications and security industries to foist upon us another generation of needless and problematic technology, I suggest we use the common sense and good judgment we were born and raised with, and examine some solutions which cost little and work great. Even the best dog may get sick. But it will not crash. Among the things I do not wish to see at the next UMA, ABA APTA or BUSCON conference are booth upon booth of security consultants and their useless, costly, complex, bumbling, slippery-slope technology. But I would welcome a kennel.

Publications: National Bus Trader.