New bomb-sniffing ‘bark ranger’ on Independence Mall patrol

 German shepherd Ken Franklin is Independence National Historic Park's newest ranger. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

German shepherd Ken Franklin is Independence National Historic Park's newest ranger. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

On your next visit to Philadelphia’s Independence National Historic Park, the park’s newest federal law enforcement officer might greet you by sniffing your bag. Nothing personal — he just wants to make sure it’s safe. His name is Ken Franklin, and he is the “bark ranger,” a bomb-sniffing K-9.

The 2 1/2-year-old German shepherd, who was actually born in Germany, graduated in late May from a 10-week training course run by the Philadelphia Police Department. Currently he patrols the 54-acre park with his handler, Park Ranger Nick Iannelli.

“Ken helps us bring an additional element to our security team at the park,” said Jane Cowley, the park’s public affairs officer. The dog is able to detect a wide variety of explosives.

Ken is trained to identify over 30 different scents, and he can identify all of their variants, as well. According to Iannelli, when Ken detects questionable material, he is trained to simply sit down near the area. Pawing at a possible explosive could be dangerous.

Just another day on the job

The K-9 ranger, considered a full-time working dog, works about four days a week and can be called upon on his days off. His workday begins early in the morning. He has his breakfast and takes a run around outside. Then Ken dons a special vest that spells out “police,” and the two rangers spend the day patrolling, with some rest time and play time for Ken.

Ken and Ianelli live within five minutes of the park. They concentrate on the areas around Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, but they can easily respond to other areas as needed. Usually calm and focused, Ken gets excited when he sees another dog, but he is otherwise quite attentive to Iannelli.

Iannelli is just as attentive to Ken, keeping a close, affectionate hold on his leash and always making sure the dog does not get overheated on a sunny day. Ken has a special air-conditioned K-9 vehicle where he can rest and keep cool.

Later in the day, Ken likes to run around.

“He gets depressed and kind of mopey if he doesn’t get exercise,” said Ianelli.

A daily need

Iannelli was the driving force behind acquiring Ken. He did the research and made the pitch for an explosives-detection dog. Iannelli says it’s a necessity 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There are always bags and packages to sniff during events. Sometimes the homeless population hides bags around the park, leaving many unattended bags for Ken to investigate.

According to Cowley, the park has had dogs on staff before, but not in the last decade or so. Prior to Ken, Independence National Historic Park depended on working dogs from organizations such as the U.S. Park Police and the Philadelphia Police Department. Now, Cowley says, they are happy to share Ken’s expertise with those and other law enforcement agencies.

Friendly neighborhood patrol

The public have responded warmly to Ken. He melts stiffly walking businessmen and draws smiles from Liberty Bell visitors.

“People like him. People ask if they can pet him,” said Ianelli. (They cannot while Ken is on duty.)

When he’s not at work, Ken is Ianelli’s companion. As a house pet, he may not always obey Iannelli’s wife, but he is definitely part of the family. In his leisure time Ken’s reward for doing his work includes playing ball and playing a tug game.

Iannelli says Ken loves his job. “When he sees me put on my duty belt he gets excited, because he knows he’s going to work.”

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