5:30 a.m. Josh Young, my co-owner and husband, and I load up our leak detection K9s in our transport vehicle and drive out to an area where the dogs can stretch their legs and burn off a little steam. Our detection dogs are no fools and always know when it is detection day. Their eyes are sharp on us, and they thrum with excitement. They are eager to load back up and be taken to the jobsite.
6:30 a.m. Once we’ve arrived on the jobsite, we join in on the pipeline operator’s job safety analysis (JSA) meeting and give ours as well. Josh and I spent yesterday prepping for inspection and injecting the tracer odorant into the pipeline. We already know the location and people we will be working with. We confirm that bell hole reports will be done prior to the leak detection dog’s inspection. This line is being hydrotested, and I am told that pressure has been taken off the line.
7:30 a.m. The first detection dog is geared up with a H2S monitor on her collar along with her harness and longline. I noticed a lot of thorn bushes and some broken bottle glass on the right of way when we surveyed it yesterday so I put K9 Yara’s booties on as well. The other dogs yip and bark in competitive frustration that they did not get to be picked as the first dog to detect. Each dog has her own distinct personality and strength that we work to their advantage on a job. Yara is up first and is our consistent soldier. She puts in the miles and always finishes just as strong as she started. Yara doesn’t overthink inspection scenarios and knows her job well. As far as she’s concerned, I am just dead weight on the end of the longline. Our leak detection dogs are trained to work independently and use their natural abilities as exceptional hunters. K9 Yara immediately puts her nose to the ground and gets working. Her tail is high and wagging with every step.
8:30 a.m. Josh drives up in the K9 transport vehicle, and K9 Yara is put up to cool down in the AC and hydrate. We focus on cooling down her core body temperature as the West Texas sun is already starting to crank up the heat. K9 Rogue is geared up. She has a sharp nose and is a very clever dog. Rogue works in and out of a section of bell holes and challenging terrain. In some areas, I use cues to have her inspect sections that would be very slow and challenging for a person to walk through. Rogue works through these spots efficiently and with ease.
Each dog has her own distinct “snap” when they come into odor. I see Rogue’s body language immediately change, and I know she has come into odor. Her head snaps toward odor and her tail stiffens and wags with excitement. This is the moment I love most as a K9 handler and trainer. I let her independently work into the odor and pinpoint the location for me. She indicates with an aggressive response by scratching at the point of highest odor concentration.
9:00 a.m. K9 Rogue is put up to cool down in the AC, and K9 Raja is brought out. We use a second detection K9 to confirm the leak location Rogue found. Raja is a very methodical worker and sweeps an area more thoroughly than any other dog on our team. After Raja confirms, we mark the location with a pin flag that the operator approved for marking. We also take GPS coordinates which are unnecessary because the project supervisor is behind us in his truck. His window is open, and I can hear him making phone calls to bring in the nearest hydrovac truck and excavator. This pipeline operator has spent the past two weeks trying to isolate the leak location, and the project supervisor is anxious to resolve the issue.
11:00 a.m. The leak detection dogs are alternated to ensure they do not overheat, and the sun is high in the sky. K9 Yara is almost to the end of the line we are inspecting, and I can see the riser and 30 feet of exposed pipe where we were told a leaky gasket was repaired. Yara’s head “snaps” and her body language changes. Her tail vibrates with excitement, and she beelines to a connection on the pipe. She indicates directly on the previously repaired gasket. This isn’t the first time our detection dogs have found leaks on repaired or replaced segments of a line. The heat and hot soil have evaporated the gasket drip but soapy water is used to confirm there is indeed a micro leak.
12:45 p.m. A hydrovac truck has arrived and is potholing down to the buried leak K9 Rogue found. Josh and I eat the cold breakfast burritos we forgot about this morning. All focus is put on care for the detection dogs, and we do a poor job of taking care of ourselves. An excavator arrives shortly after the hydrovac exposes the pipe.
2:00 p.m. The pipe is mostly exposed and is now being hand dug by two of the pipeline operator’s employees. A large muddy clot is pulled off the side of the pipe and distinctly smells of our tracer odorant. The supervisor walks down to view the leak himself and cleans off the micro crack on the line with a bottle of water.
3:00 p.m. We are released from the jobsite. The necessary repairs will be made over the next few days, and the project supervisor is confident we found the leaks that were failing the hydrotest. Relief can be seen and heard all around now that the problem spots on the line have been identified.
5:30 p.m. The dogs have cooled down and are settled in the hotel room. It’s important to us that the dogs are cooled, hydrated and rested before they are fed to avoid risk of bloat. They are calm and have a look that I would describe as being satisfied and fulfilled. These dogs absolutely love doing jobs. Josh and I thoroughly check each dog for any hidden thorns or burrs we may have missed out in the field. The dogs are very enthusiastic for their dinner time.
7:00 p.m. Delivery food arrives, and I eat while following up with inquiries via email and social media. Our leak detection services get a high volume of inquiries from pipeline operators with a wide range of very unique problems. Even if detection dogs are not a fit, I can advise a service that may help them resolve their issue.
8:00 p.m. Josh and I write up a report of findings from today’s inspection while it is fresh in our minds. We take out the dogs and relieve them for the night; they immediately go to sleep.
Headline photo: Hager with Rogue in Wyoming. Photos courtesy of K9 Pipe Inspections, LLC.
Michaela (Mich) Hager is the president and head trainer for K9 Pipe Inspections, a company using highly trained dogs to detect leaks along buried pipelines.
She is a former behavioral therapist with a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Montana with upper-level studies in animal cognition. She has worked with several top military and police K9 trainers across the country which led to the development of K9 Pipe Inspections’ leak detection dog program.
K9 Pipe Inspections dogs have worked across the United States, completing contracts in Texas,
New Mexico and California.
For more information, go to www.k9pipeinspections.com.
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