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The Liberty Bell's New Watchdog

Jul 07, 2013

KEN FRANKLIN, the new bomb-sniffing K-9 "bark ranger" at Independence National Historical Park, wears a vest that says "Police," not a tricorne and specs. While part of his job is public relations (including a Twitter hash tag, #barkranger, where he mixes it up with a colonial squirrel named Skuggs), he's all business when the vest is on.

Daily News reporter John Moritz interviewed Ken's handler, Park Ranger Nick Iannelli, while Ken sat nearby, both fresh off an assignment to sniff out potential threats during a visit by President Clinton late last month.

Ken is a German-born German shepherd who came to Philly by way of a breeder in Kansas City, Mo. He was midway through his bomb-sniffing training when the Boston Marathon bombers struck. Iannelli is a local guy who came to his current job by way of a two-year park ranger stint at Alaska's Kenai Fjords.

When they're not policing the historic district together, Ken lives with Iannelli and his wife in Society Hill.

Q Do you call him Ken, or Franklin?

Ken. That was his original name in Germany. We added Franklin.

Q As a team, what is your training?

I went through the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Georgia. And then once I got Ken we went through a 10-week course with the Philadelphia Police Department.

He is trained on a real wide variety of explosives, but what he actually picks up on are the components, like nitrogen and stuff like that. He'll pick up pretty much any mixture or variation of explosive that somebody could make up.

Q Describe your typical day.

I try to get him out as much as possible to let him be seen as a visual deterrent. We look for things out of the ordinary, like bags left in places there wouldn't normally be a bag left. He also does screening for events, checking the area to make sure nobody stashes anything anywhere.

Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell are national treasures, so there is a little bit more of a threat here than there would be in some other parts of the city. The Philadelphia Police Department, obviously, has a bunch of explosives canines as well.

I also try to get him out for breaks with his vest off and let kids come and pet him, and they seem to love that. He's good with kids. He's super friendly. He's a great diplomat.

Q Any unforeseen challenges?

I guess the biggest one would be the heat. I try not to keep him out for too long before I put him back in a vehicle with air conditioning.

Even having dogs on the blacktop for too long, their pads can get burned and blister. I try to keep him either on the grass or in places that are shaded and to walk across the street as quick as we can and get him to where he is not going to burn his feet.

Q Does Ken ever get distracted?

If we're out walking around, I may have to give him a little tug and say, 'Come on, Ken.' But when you give him his work command, he's very good about that.

Today, actually, we were doing a search in a room, and the room was being used by a group. They were on break, but there was still quite a few people in there and while he was going around he ran into someone.

He was searching, and there was a guy standing there, and he went right up to the guy's leg and just looked at him and waited for him to move.

I had to ask the gentleman to move, and he said, 'Oh sorry' and moved. Ken continued. Once you give him his work command, he zeros in.

Q Does he ever chase the squirrels around the park?

Yeah, when he's out and he's off his leash he definitely gets it up a tree pretty quick.

Q How do you prepare for an event like a visit by a former U.S. president?

The great thing about Ken being a dog is, there's no mental aspect of it. Whether he is working for President Clinton or he's just practicing, it is the same for him.

We worked under the the Secret Service's command. They directed us to areas they wanted swept, and we went through and checked them all. Everything was all right.



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