Mastering Night
Some Habits Of A Sleepless Writer

In the fall of 2023, I had my first inkling that something unusual was happening to one of our airport security canines. As Animal Protection Officer, John Stuart, Department of Aerospace Security, I sometimes witness and often document daily activities of canines throughout Seattle, Washington's Airport Surveillance System. Nothing, however, had prepared me for this singular case noted at Sea-Tac International Airport.

Over almost two months, I followed this Czech German Shepherd with a combination of skepticism and concern, noting his apparent "breakdown" on Task Form 319. Though I followed procedure, noting routine and assigned values on the appointed forms, including an MPCI (Multiphasic Canine Inventory), I kept my own personal log of this animal as well. My thoughts are reconstructed in the following abstract from that journal. In defending its existence, I feel it still falls under the heading of Intelligence Studies in Dogs, though I haven't officially included it in this dog's current file pending outcome

October 1, 2023: Czech German Shepherd, Jackson's Measure-for-Measure Mannheim's Gate is a 90-pound, fully active Czech German Shepherd, Border Patrol Working Stock, trim yet muscular, cinnamon-tan and black Airport Security Canine. Left eye damaged in former skirmish with an ocelot (illegal transport); hence, entirely blind in that eye. Temperament: Keen and highly intelligent with compensating sense of smell and hearing, while subdued in vision. Outstanding working association with Handler, Seth Tate, age 32, who also acts as caregiver. The two have worked Sea-Tac International Airport, primarily Delta and Southwest 747 and 737 aircraft for the past two years. Duty includes daily routine between Concourses A & B with Delta, and Concourse D with Southwest Airlines, though management can include touring the terminal, intermittent checks throughout baggage and cargo holding areas, even walk-throughs in shops, bistros, restaurants, and re-fueling docks. Standard protocol is used when encountering the public. It has been noted in recent spot checks that Jackson can be distracted by a condition known as WTP (working the public), a condition sometimes associated with older dogs and Czechs in particular (more on this later).

Overall, this dog's character has been well recognized as above standard. As you know, in the two years since Aerospace Security's universal dismantling of airport whole body scanners, Common Senses, Inc., has provided an array of canines on staff throughout the nation, many the caliber of Jackson. I've personally witnessed a new, more confident airline traveler since the inception of this unique system. No more embarrassing full body interrogations, these dogs represent a natural safeguard in on-ground and in-flight operations. Their job is a serious one, detecting articles of dangerous trespass either on body or in baggage of passengers. But their conspicuousness within the airport environs still remains minimal in order to be mutually effective. As part of a handler/canine team, they are regarded as ancillary support to their human counterpart. In any other working dog endeavor, the dog, itself, might be considered primary. But it's my job to make sure Jackson, and others like him, are observed and constantly assessed for the ability to "camouflage." They simply must disappear into the substrata of the airport, below the mainstream activity in a work ethic best for them, and certainly at optimum for us. And, to this end, I continue to feel Jackson is exemplary.

I've watched this dog move throughout the airport on many occasions, head down, appearing to focus on line of sight from about ankle to knee on a human. Though not the usual carriage for a working Shepherd, this attitude could be as a result of his intense concentration without full visual perception. He makes little contact with his handler. This might be breed-specific, again, particularly with Czech guard dog lineage. Jackson is eight years old, fast approaching retirement. Yet, he "drives" through human traffic with efficiency and little hesitation. I've only noted deviation in this temperament twice, witnessing it once recently for myself and the other time noted by another supervisor.

On these two occasions he sat directly in front of small children, both of them barely reaching his sitting height, including his ears. His handler seemed unprepared for this action (or lack of action), yet accommodated the dog. In each case, the children stroked Jackson's fur and touched his face. The dog remained passive and seemingly compliant. I asked Handler Tate about it shortly after my encounter, and he said it had happened one other time, the week previously. He reminded me that Czech German Shepherd Dogs are from stock made for war. They function on their own, not in disregard of their handler, but alongside him. He wondered too if limited vision was becoming more of a problem and had triggered these two events. I noted the aberrant behavior. Will make full accounting upon next scheduled review.

October 12, 2023: Czech German Shepherd Jackson on routine inspection, Delta 747, Flight 12, Gate 3, this a.m. Handler Tate said dog moved with dispatch throughout empty plane but became agitated on return walk-through, locating a black plastic sack under seat 17B. As Tate removed contents, Jackson bristled, then whined, refusing to move until Tate allowed him to inspect contents, a woman's breast prosthesis. Response: Legitimate, yet Tate observes Jackson placing his head on Seat 17B in an unusual, "almost thoughtful repose" before exiting. Efforts to locate owner (seat 17B), presumably Grace Newman of Shreveport, Louisiana, are unsuccessful. Open file until someone claims or we locate Ms. Newman.

October 21, 2023: Czech German Shepherd Jackson again on routine inspection of empty Delta 747, Flight 53, Gate 5. Newer plane, just recently put into service. First run through for Jackson. Handler Tate notices heightened sense of smell in his dog, head higher than usual. Then, Tate said, without hesitation Jackson plunges his nose into the seating area between seats 32 A and B. "Distraught," Handler Tate said, and a word I wouldn't normally ever use to describe a security canine.

As the handler insists, Jackson is put into a sit/stay in the aisle while Tate thoroughly inspects the seating area. Nothing is retrieved or seems out of place, although Tate makes note of the dog's alert. Refusing to allow Jackson to return to these particular seats, they immediately exit the plane. Tate reports the alert for further inspection and sends me an e-mail later that day asking if anything was found on backup. I assure him nothing unusual was noted by the next team through, and the flight went on as scheduled. I later asked Handler Tate what he meant by the dog being distraught. He simply replied, "Reduced canine performance."

October 23, 2023: Jackson and Handler Tate walk through Delta aircraft, Flight 53, the same exact plane as two days previously. Tate's conversation with me notes the sequence of events leading up to Jackson selecting seats 32 A and B again with a routine Tate can only describe this time as "Unmistakable. It's as though the dog is developing a phobia," he says. "If this continues, I won't be able to get past those seats myself, which of course, the dog will pick up on. Then, I won't know if it's truly his reaction or mine that he's sensing." Again, the seats are double checked by another handler and dog, and the area is cleared as safe. I feel it's my duty to report these last two incidents to my supervisor at Common Senses, Inc. Have received word that the animal might be scheduled early for a thorough veterinary exam at the Common Senses facility in St. Louis, Missouri. I hold off telling Handler Tate pending my own directive which is to move handler and dog to another carrier, Southwest Airlines, for the time being.

October 30, 2023: Handler Tate and his Czech German Shepherd, Jackson, have successfully made transition to Southwest Airlines as a security dog/handler team, working the main terminal at passenger checkpoints, baggage and some cargo areas. Handler Tate remarks Jackson has never been finer. I choose to keep them out of actual working aircraft for a few more days to see if the adjustment seems complete. When a late night departure of Delta's Flight 53 from Sea-Tac to Minneapolis reports a five-year-old girl has died on board of a fatal asthma attack, of course, I check to see what seat number she occupied-"Seat 32B."

Frankly, I'm nonplussed. It occurs to me there is something unusual about this animal and his calculated insistence, and that those who train these dogs need to take note. I forward the concern to my supervisor, again noting the fact that Jackson had alerted to that seat on two separate occasions. No comment is officially made, but I do receive a text message from Common Senses, Inc., verifying that Jackson's Measure-for-Measure will be returned to them on November 6 for a thorough check-up. Maybe they, too, are picking up on this unnerving behavior.

October 31, 2023: I meet with Seth Tate after shift. Have decided to tell him about Jackson's requested return to Common Senses. I know he'll have Jackson with him, no matter where I tell him the news, but somehow it seems easier, maybe even kinder, to tell him in a public place. So we meet at Applebees on the way into downtown Seattle. I pull in right behind him, headlights accenting Jackson's head and ears in sharp relief. I think of the beam from a prison tower searchlight, how it finds its prey and won't let go, and wonder if I'm doing the right thing. The restaurant has an appreciation of service animals, Tate says, as he brings the dog through the front door.

We talk for a little more than a half hour. Jackson is lying at our feet, between us under the wide table. He hardly moves, yet I feel the soft bulge of his abdomen from time-to-time. In any other circumstance it would've been comforting, maybe even soothing. But I keep thinking this might be the last time I see him. "Have you heard what happened on board Flight 53 last night?" I ask.

Tate shakes his head yes, then lays the end of Jackson's leash across his visible knee. "I heard it was awful. Makes a horrible sound when you can't breathe, when you can't say what's wrong either. God, for a little kid it must be torture." Then Tate looks down and fiddles with the leash strap. "I wonder if he heard her, you know, beforehand?"

I'm not sure he's talking to me. Tate's voice is so low. I get the feeling Jackson is listening.

"You mean, you wonder if your dog experienced the incident days before it happened?" I ask.

Tate shakes his head once more.

"That's not even worth discussing," I say. "These dogs are good at what they do, perhaps the best in the world, but they don't have a sense of premonition."

"How do we know?" Tate asks. "My folks one time had a dog who'd meet them all over the place-they'd drive to the power company to pay their bill and he'd be sitting there waiting for them. He even showed up at my wedding in a park thirty miles from home a half hour before the service. This might just be another form."

I think about what he's just said and follow an old adage taught to all dog handlers in basic training. "Most of what you'll see in the field isn't substantiated by anything but animal instinct. From a tail wag to a long pause over a shallow imprint on the ground, the dog is coming from his world, not ours. That's the immense benefit we must tap into."

"Look, Seth, I have to tell you something. Common Senses has issued a request to return Jackson to the St. Louis facility for an early review. At this point, routine. They're just responding according to protocol. Right now, there's little that's been out of the ordinary. They know he's alerted without cause, but that's not uncommon."

"Don't bullshit me," Seth says, dropping the leash as he leans forward. "This isn't just one incident. And it's no accident. I know my dog. I've lived and trained with One-Eyed Jacks. I've eaten out of the same cereal bowl and found myself looking into his eyes, yes, even the dead one, on more than one occasion asking him for advice. They plan on separating us. At least until they figure this out."

I look at a picture of John Wayne, his wide smile almost a smirk in the dense cloud of framed faces above us. "I don't think that's the plan, Seth. I do think he might have to go through some re-certification."

"Or retirement," Seth says. "No one knows how to handle this, do they? Not even a dog handler." He tilts his head and slowly grins. "You know why I call him One-Eyed Jacks?"

At this point, I can feel Jackson rise and begin a slow exit from under the table, his nose coming to rest on Tate's knee. "It's not for the old Brando flick or the Jacks in every deck of cards. You remember the cyclops, Mr. Stuart? You know, the one-eyed giants from Greek myth? Zeus turned loose three of them, and they forged lightening bolts as weapons for him. He didn't question where they came from, didn't analyze the brightness or the noise. Zeus just used them. And so does Jacks."

When I got home that night there were three messages on my answering machine-one from my supervisor, one from Shreveport, Louisiana, and one from Seth saying he'd have Jackson to me by 5:30 on the morning he was due to be sent back for re-training. My supervisor wanted confirmation that Jackson would be on an early-morning flight in less than a week. Seth told me it would happen, as unwilling as he was to let his dog go. And the Shreveport call was confirmation that, indeed, the prosthesis had been Grace Newman's. But no one would be claiming it now. Found dead in her apartment early that morning, the only comment made was that cancer had spread throughout her body. I re-read the concerns I'd noted about Jackson on October 12, when he discovered the black plastic bag under Seat 17B. I thought of the power of a single charge of lightening and shredded the note.


That morning of November 6, I took the leash from Seth myself and guided Jackson into a carrier that would be shipped onboard a 737 bound for St. Louis. He would be riding first class behind a small bulkhead designated as space available for working canines. Jackson didn't look at me as I locked the carrier into place but made a series of small barks as if to let his handler know he planned to return. Seth told me later Jackson would routinely bark if he thought Seth couldn't see him, as in walking across a dark room or working the underbelly of an aircraft, something that Seth could only equate with the dog's recognition of their mutual handicap, at least momentarily.

When the dog returned to active duty at Sea-Tac International exactly a month later, Seth was close to ecstatic. Not only had Common Senses returned his dog, they had re-certified him for another year of intense airport security. It was a joy to watch him work again, Seth told me, but there was something missing, some element of self-initiating behavior. The warning barks had stopped, and it was as though Jackson was finally responding within authorized limits. That is, until the routine check of Delta Flight 84 on the afternoon of December 7th.

Seth called on his cell from the empty aircraft saying he couldn't get Jackson to leave. All commands had failed, and the dog was planted in utter defiance refusing to move from the cockpit. At first he sat at the entrance as if deciding whether it was worth this abject refusal to obey his handler. Then, with one tentative paw he moved forward. He sat directly between the captain's and first officer's seats and looked straight ahead as if studying the cluster of instruments in front of him. For several moments he didn't move. Then the ruff over his shoulders began to bristle, and he let out a long, low whine.

"It's over," I heard Seth say. "They're going to pull Jackson from service, and I can't do a damn thing about it."

"Not so fast, Seth," I said. "He was right on the last two. My God, if he's right on this, it could take down an airliner." Jackson's whine pierced the miles between us, and I could sense his pitiful awareness. I couldn't bring an end to the conversation, yet I didn't know what to say. The whine became a cry, a tremulous call to do something. I held the phone below my ear and started to shiver.

"Get him out of there, Seth. Give him the command to let go. He's made his call, and if you don't release him he's damn well going to fold."


December 9, 2023: I tried to get a hold of Seth again this morning. After what he told me yesterday after he found Jackson's collar in the road, I reported the dog as missing. I wonder if I should go try to find him. But there's too much to do.

We got a freak snowstorm yesterday, the kind that puts Seattle into a panic. Temperatures dropped below freezing, planes were delayed, people stood in lines everywhere. The dogs seemed to lose their tempo too. You know, that inborn sense of time they have-well, they just seemed adrift, smelling the air currents for stability in the form of rain. I kept calling Seth, asking him for any updates.

"He's gone," is all he would say.

Finally, about three in the afternoon he called me and asked if I'd reported the incident in the cockpit of Delta's Flight 84. I told him not to think about that right now, that he'd lost his dog, his partner after a particularly bad episode.

"What do you mean, episode?" he asked. "You still don't want to believe the dog, do you? You believed though when you heard him crying. Then you thought better of it. Now, you're coming back around. I know. I've been through it too."

"I can't say what I believe, Seth. But the alert in the cockpit has been handled."

"Yeah, I bet," he said with finality. "Jacks was assigned to that plane. For all intent, he saw the future of it. Whatever happens in that cockpit and whenever it occurs, there's at least two of us who know it's just a matter of time. Even worse, my guess is an entire training facility is now going over every intelligent inch of my dog to outguess a disaster." Seth's voice broke, his words oddly pitched between a clear statement and emotion thick with doubt.

"Are you saying you know where he is-that someone at Common Senses took him?" I asked him the same question I'd been asking myself, then answered it in placating logic. "You followed his prints and found his collar in the middle of a busy street. Dogs slip their collars all the time. That doesn't mean he's been stolen. He'll come back. And then we'll get him the help he needs."

"That's what I'm afraid of," Seth finally said after a pause too long and clearly unsteady. "I'm. . . I'm sure they'll bring him back now. When that plane goes down, that's when they'll want me to take my dog back, to keep getting this knowledge, this cruel insight from him. They'll figure out the dog's not broken. Just like you have."


I could never really tell how Seth had come to that conclusion. Did he know what I'd reported to Common Senses the day of Jackson's last alert? That Jackson, I feared, had suffered a breakdown. Was the man becoming like his dog, his comment more of intuition than anything tangible? Most of all, was he able to foresee what I'd be going through right now?

What I do know, and enough to journal with some sort of conviction, is that whatever happened to Jacks the day he lost his collar had a lot more to do with a plan than a disappearance. Jacks, his head low, conversing with phantoms that stirred his instincts, moved outward that day in December, away from his handler, his advocate. A Czech German Shepherd, he began the morning thinking for himself, but I doubt it ended up that way. The collar was the least valuable thing about him, yet it hinted at massive change. Strangely, I saw no corporate picture or plea for his return. It was as though he'd vanished in the bizarre snow that had strangled Seattle overnight.

As for Seth, he called me one last time saying he was leaving Aerospace Security for good, moving his family to Kansas. "Someplace wide open," he said. I thought about asking him if he was still waiting for Jackson-if he would continue to wait for a dog that might have the courage to walk across mountains for him. But I realized it would tempt me to say too much.

So, I wait here in the sub-light of a half-empty terminal while another handler and his dog comb Flight 84 for anything off center. It's been almost a month since I reported Czech German Shepherd Jackson's alert to something seen or unseen in the cockpit. That true to his pattern, it might take awhile for someone to die, but eventually it would happen. I wait for the telltale worries that some other dog will pick up, some other handler will report. But none happen. No other worries, except my own.

By Sherrida Woodley