Airports

TSA dog bites passenger at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson Airport

May 13, 2013 at 3:18 PM ET

belly bite
Sue Dubitsky via collepark.11alive.com
Sue Dubitsky shows the bite marks she says were left by a TSA bomb-sniffing dog on May 2.

A Georgia woman is hoping for a negative rabies test after being bitten by a TSA bomb-sniffing dog at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

“It was something that no one would ever expect to happen to them at the airport,” said Susan Dubitsky of Rome, Ga., who was waiting to meet her sister near the baggage area on May 2. “The officer walked by me and the dog reared up and bit my stomach.”

Upon heading to her car, Dubitsky realized her pants were torn and that what she thought was a minor nip had broken the skin and was starting to bleed. She went back into the terminal, where paramedics examined the punctures and covered them with a Band-Aid.

“I just wanted to make sure they knew this had happened,” she told NBC News.

While Dubitsky is cautiously optimistic that she won’t need rabies shots, she’s concerned that others may face the same situation.

“The dog was there and gone in a second; that’s how quickly he bit me,” she said. “That could happen to a child.”

She’s also bothered by the fact that no one from TSA or the Atlanta Police Department has contacted her with a status report on the incident. Under TSA’s National Canine Program (NCP), the former provides the dogs, training, and a yearly stipend, while local law enforcement agencies provide the handlers.

“TSA is working with Atlanta P.D. to investigate the alleged incident with the canine,” TSA spokesman David Castelveter told NBC News in a statement. The Atlanta Police Department did not immediately return requests for comment.

The incident comes on the heels of a government report citing the NCP program for a variety of deficiencies. In January, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) cited TSA for inadequate compliance with canine training requirements and using canine units to screen cargo rather than passengers as the program was intended.

“TSA has not deployed passenger screening canines (PSC) — trained to identify and track explosives odor on a person — consistent with its risk-based approach, and did not determine PSC teams' effectiveness prior to deployment,” said the report.

The report also noted that, during training exercises, PSC teams demonstrated mixed results, detecting some explosive odors on “passengers” but missing others and falsely detecting them where no explosives existed (false positives).

TSA currently has funding for 120 PSC teams — out of a total of 921 canine units operating at airports, maritime facilities, etc. — at an annual cost of $164,000 per team. The budget for the entire NCP program has almost doubled from $52 million in 2010 to $101 million last year.

If the GAO report is any indication, a bit more of that money should go toward better training of PSC teams. In the meantime, Susan Dubitsky is healing but nervous about returning to the airport:

“I’d like to know why the dog that bit me is still on duty,” she told NBC News. “If nothing else, why wouldn’t they reassign that dog to a patrol car temporarily rather than have it in the airport before they know if it will hurt anybody else?”

Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him on Twitter.

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