Meet the GWCCA’s first-ever paw patroller

Today (March 13) marks National K9 Veterans Day, a celebration designed to honor the commitment and sacrifices that military dogs, police dogs, border patrol dogs and all other canines have made for our nation.

So as we recognize K9s country-wide, now is the perfect time to introduce the Georgia World Congress Center Authority’s (GWCCA) first paw patroller. Meet our extraordinary yellow Labrador retriever, Kaia, who turns two-years-old this month.

Kaia weighed 48 pounds when this photo was taken.

Born and bred in Colombia, the South American K9 is handled by Officer Daniel Rutledge of the GWCCA’s Public Safety Department. When Kaia isn’t on the job she lives with her handler. Kaia, according to the department of public safety, means “strong and beautiful” and she was named by Rutledge’s wife, who is of Native American descent.

Kaia and Officer Rutledge taking a break at the Georgia World Congress Center before another round of patrols.

Kaia represents the first of many. She is not only the first K9 at the GWCCA but is also a part of the first K9 program at a convention center. The GWCCA’s K9 program was envisioned by Paul Guerrucci, Director of Public Safety. With Super Bowl LIII on the horizon and the volume of people and traffic in mind, he wanted to have an additional safety measure in place throughout preparations and during events. Although this program was in talks for a while, Super Bowl LIII created the perfect opportunity to add a K9 unit. Guerrucci hopes to continue growing the unit with two or three more K9s.

So how does this program function exactly? Well, GWCCA’s Public Safety utilizes the K9 program as a specialized unit designed to address suspicious packages and detect explosives-related odors and/or drugs.

This WSB-TV report shows Kaia on the job at the Atlanta Boat Show.

Since her first day on the job on Dec. 16, Kaia has worked daily, five days a week. Her main duties entail checking materials, vehicles, bags or cargo that come through the GWCCA campus.

Such as any other GWCCA employee, Kaia has undergone carefully-crafted training. Her specialized five-week training in Augusta, was facilitated by the Richmond County Sheriff’s office, which provided Georgia Emergency Management (GEMA) certified trainers. Kaia is an extraordinary K9 because of her ability to detect 20 different odors related to explosives. Most K9s are only trained to detect five. In order to maintain her keen sense of detection, Kaia must be refreshed on those various scents every month.

“She’s very likable,” Chief Guerrucci told WSB-TV. “But don’t let that fool you – she’s very, very proficient at what she’s trying to do.”