The apprehension of a man who jumped the White House fence Wednesday night and was bitten by a guard dog highlighted one of the Secret Service’s most effective weapons: its canines.
Secret Service agents and K-9 units quickly subdued the latest fence jumper, whom authorities identified as Dominic Adesanya, 23, of Bel Air, Md., after he punched two of the Secret Service dogs, Hurricane and Jordan, authorities say.
The two animals were taken to a veterinarian and treated for minor bruising they suffered during the incident, according to agency spokesman Edwin Donovan, while Adesanya was taken to a hospital with injuries from a dog bite and is now in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service.
“Both K-9s were cleared for duty by the veterinarian,” Donovan wrote in an e-mail.
Adesanya was charged Thursday with one count of knowingly entering or remaining in a restricted building or grounds and one count of injuring animals used by law enforcement. Both charges are misdemeanors punishable by up to 1 year in prison.
Adesanya’s rapid apprehension posed a marked contrast to the agency’s handling of Omar J. Gonzalez, a 42-year-old Army veteran who authorities say jumped the White House fence and ran far into the executive mansion through an unlocked front door on Sept. 19. The incident involving Gonzalez, whose arraignment was delayed Tuesday and who is now scheduled to undergo a mental-health evaluation within 30 days, set off a series of embarrassing revelations about the Secret Service and helped lead to the resignation of its then-director, Julia Pierson.
In the case of Gonzalez, the agency’s guard dogs were not released, raising questions about a security breakdown at the White House. Under the Secret Service’s protocols, there was supposed to be an attack dog, a specialized SWAT team and a guard at the front door at the ready if the officer in a guard booth on the North Lawn was unable to reach the intruder.
A panel of outside security and operations experts is reviewing the breakdowns at the direction of the Department of Homeland Security and is expected to recommend reforms by mid-December.
The decision not to release the dog last month is part of that review. Some people familiar with the incident say the handler probably felt he could not release the dog, because so many officers were in pursuit of Gonzalez and the dog may have attacked them instead.
Of Wednesday night’s incident, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the episode “underscores the professionalism of the men and women of the Secret Service. These are individuals who literally at a moment’s notice are prepared to spring into action to protect the White House, to protect the first family, and to protect those of us who work here every day.”
Earnest added, “I do think it would be fair for anyone to conclude that the results of last night’s efforts were better than the results that related to the incident that occurred last month here.”
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on national security, praised the Secret Service in an interview for defending the president so effectively Wednesday.
“The swiftness of the response was impressive. They’re obviously dealing with a difficult situation, and they got him out of there in a rapid and professional manner,” Chaffetz said, adding that his only outstanding question is how closely agents were monitoring Adesanya before he jumped the fence. “Was he on a watch list? Was the Secret Service aware of this individual?”
But when it comes to the K-9 unit, Chaffetz added, “I can’t say enough about how valuable they are.”
“I love the dogs,” he said, adding that having watched a video showing Hurricane and Jordan being assaulted, “I hated to see him punch the dogs, but obviously they could take a punch. I was thrilled to see they’re back on duty.”
Wayne Pacelle, chief executive of The Humane Society of the United States, helped craft the 2000 law that made it a crime to wound a law-enforcement animal in the line of duty. It passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and is the basis for two of the felony charges Adesanya now faces.
They are not just instruments or mounts or attack mechanisms or tools. They’re living breathing creatures, and there are many cases over time where suspects or criminals injured or killed dogs or horses in the conduct of their duty,” Pacelle said in an interview, adding that he and others pushed for the law “to send a signal that that behavior would not be tolerated.”
After being deluged with media requests, on Thursday afternoon the Secret Service tweeted out two separate photos of the Belgian-born, male pooches, tongues wagging as they posed in front the U.S. and agency’s flags. Hurricane is a “black Belgian Malinois, brown eyes, age 6, enjoys playing with his Kong toy, ready to work,” the agency tweeted, while Jordan is a “black/tan Belgian Malinois, brown eyes, age 5, enjoys walks around White House, ready to work.”
No word whether they were feted with extra treats for their heroic work.
The Secret Service’s K-9 unit is operated by the uniformed division, which is separate from the special agents who are assigned to the presidential detail. The dogs are trained at the agency’s James. J. Rowley Training Center in Laurel, Md., a complex spanning 500 acres and 31 buildings.
Former Secret Service officials said the Belgian Malinois are selected because of their unique characteristics; they are smart, strong, agile and obedient. An adult male weighs more than 60 pounds and can run in bursts twice as fast as the swiftest human. Its short hair makes it ideal for work in heat, and the Malinois are more compact, agile and higher-energy than German shepherds.
The dogs are trained for specific skills — some are assigned to the bomb squad and are used during security sweeps at hotels and other buildings where the presidential entourage will be staying.
The attack dogs on the White House grounds do not have any other duties than to subdue intruders, the officials said.
“Once you release the dogs to their objective, there’s not much that can stop them,” said former Secret Service director Ralph Basham, who oversaw the agency from 2003 to 2006. That objective, he added, is “take them down, slam into them. There are certain parts of the body they are trained to attack. They are trained to stop the intruder and give the handler time to respond.”
The Secret Service has 75 canines in all. Each dog costs $4,500, according to “In the President’s Secret Service,” a 2010 book by journalist Ronald Kessler.
The agency, which began its K-9 program in 1975, puts the canine candidates through 20 weeks of training. After they are cleared for duty, they remain with their handler around the clock and undergo at least eight hours a week of refresher training.
“They become part of the family,” according to the Secret Service Web site.
Most Secret Service dogs work until they are about 10 years old. “When a canine is ready to retire,” the site said, “it is retired to the handler.”
The canines are just one component of security on the White House grounds. Heavily armed SWAT team members with rifles and black riot gear patrol the grounds, while sharpshooting anti-sniper units are positioned on the roof. Cameras and guards are positioned at the perimeter, along with other officers inside the building.
The dogs are carefully handled. They “live, breathe, sleep and eat with their handlers,” Basham said. “They are constantly training; they go back for refresher courses.”
They don’t have a spotless record, however. In April 2012, Secret Service agents on a presidential trip to Cartagena, Colombia, reportedly allowed the dogs to defecate on the property of the Hotel Caribe, near the hotel manager’s room — angering the staff.
The friction helped persuade the hotel management to intervene later in the trip after a late-night altercation in a hotel hallway between a Secret Service supervisor and a local prostitute who accused him of not paying her. The resulting scandal cost 10 Secret Service members their jobs and has been one of the most embarrassing episodes for the agency in recent years.
Other government agencies also use the Belgian Malinois. Perhaps the most famous is the Navy SEAL-trained Belgian Malinois that operated as part of the team that cornered and killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011.
And fallen K-9s merit full honors. Homeland Security bestowed an official commemoration for Maxo, a 3-year-old Malinois who fell to its death in 2013 from the sixth floor of a parking area in New Orleans while doing advance sweeps for a visit by Vice President Biden.
Although the dogs are thoroughly trained and disciplined, one former George W. Bush administration official recalled some trepidation among Secret Service staff about whether the dogs might inadvertently cause harm to the president’s dog Barney, a Scottish terrier.
Perhaps attesting to the Belgian Malinois’ sophisticated training — or perhaps to a carefully negotiated bilateral canine detente — Barney made it through his eight years in office safe and sound. The former first pooch died in 2013, at age 12, of lymphoma.
As for the White House staff, they have little contact with the canines.
“I think that there’s probably a good reason why these animals are kept somewhat removed from employees and others who frequent the grounds at the White House,” Earnest said during his daily briefing, adding, “I think the individual last night probably saw pretty vividly why we all keep our distance.”
Brian Murphy contributed to this report.