K-9 detection team headed to Super Bowl

The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals aren’t the only teams headed to Super Bowl XLIII.

The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives handpicked Shelby County Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Valenti and his canine partner, Wilbur, to join other ATF K-9 explosives detection teams in Tampa, Fla., this weekend.

Valenti and Wilbur, a yellow Labrador retriever, were asked to help locate any type of explosives that might be in close proximity to Raymond James Stadium or any other venues relating to the Super Bowl.

“The K-9 teams that are here in Tampa for the Super Bowl are the best of the best,” said Virginia O’Brien, special agent in charge of the ATF Tampa Field Division. “Like the football teams that will be playing in the Super Bowl, these handlers and their K-9 partners have been training and preparing all year for this event.”

Valenti and Wilbur, who have been partners for two-and-a-half years, routinely work together in criminal investigations and at high profile security events. ATF employs explosives detecting canines at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, presidential inaugurations, the World Series and the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.

ATF’s canine program, founded in 1986, uses only Labrador retrievers. The dogs are supplied by the Guiding Eyes for the Blind, the Guide Dog Foundation and Canine Companions for Independence. The specialty canines and their handlers attend a 10-week training program at the ATF Canine Training Center in Front Royal, Va.

Upon completion of the course, the canines are able to detect a variety of explosive compounds as well as firearms and ammunitions used in more traditional protective search and sweep operations.

O’Brien said Valenti and Wilbur are working with federal, state and local law enforcement officers to ensure the safety of football teams and fans.

“ATF and our law enforcement partners have been working closely and planning for this event for two years,” O’Brien said. “We are proud to say that the only thing the fans have to worry about is whether their team wins or loses.”