There’s no more disciplined dog outside of Cesar Millan’s care than the dogs that serve the Secret Service. When you’re patrolling the crowds on Pennsylvania Avenue, there’s no room to get distracted by a squirrel or kid with an ice cream cone. Maria Goodavage’s book Secret Service Dogs offers an inside look at these animals; how they’re selected, trained, and save the president from bad guys. The book is a collection of funny, dramatic, and heartfelt anecdotes. The excerpt below outlines the story of two Belgian Malinois, Hurricane and Jardan, who put their training to work one night on the north grounds of the White House. –Ellie Kincaid
Hurricane is a tapper. When he wants to get Marshall’s attention, he taps him with his paw. If someone is petting him and stops, he’ll tap on whatever part of his or her body he can reach. He taps Marshall whenever he wants to come up for a hug.
At 7:15 p.m. on October 22, 2014, Marshall sat in his van and scanned the fence of the White House, looking for anyone who might be up to no good. He could read body language as easily as most people read books.
He had been on post on the north grounds for hours with nothing of note happening. Hurricane’s amped‑up demeanor was still puzzling him, and becoming slightly annoying after all these hours. But nothing distracted Marshall from keeping his eyes trained on the fence.
Tap tap tap.
Marshall felt Hurricane’s paw hurriedly touching his left shoulder, like someone who urgently wanted to tell him something. Hurricane’s ears were forward, and he stared toward the fence line.
For all of Hurricane’s tapping, he had never once tapped Marshall while they were on post in the van.
All of Marshall’s senses instantly went into high alert.
He peered through the blackness of the moonless night and saw nothing out of the ordinary. Just the usual tourists.
Tap tap tap.
“’Cane, buddy—what is up with you?” He scanned and something caught his eye: a figure, within a few feet of the fence, bounding toward it and flying over it like a trained athlete.
At 7:16:11, the man, wearing white basketball-style shorts and a dark, long-sleeved shirt, landed on the wrong side of the White House fence. Barely pausing, he sprang up and sprinted toward the White House.
On the Pennsylvania Avenue side of the fence, Secret Service officers rushed tourists away from the scene. If there was going to be shooting, they didn’t want anyone in the line of fire.
Marshall and Hurricane had instantly deployed out of the van and were in place, ready for action. Mike and Jardan had done the same in their sector. The Emergency Response Team members without dogs had immediately organized into full tactical mode, getting to where they needed to be and issuing commands for him to stop.
But the sleek, muscular intruder didn’t listen.
As he made his way toward the White House, he headed into Mike’s sector. Mike had already been shouting commands to stop, warning that he’d release his dog. On seeing the dog, the man slowed but continued his forward progress.
After repeated warnings there was little choice. Mike gave Jardan the signal and the dog ran toward the fence jumper. At 7:16:36, Jardan made contact, biting him on his stomach. But he couldn’t get a good bite and stay with the man.
Somehow, the thirty-foot lead had gotten caught on the end of Mike’s rifle. Nothing like this had ever happened before in all the years of training for anyone in the ERT canine unit. It was the worst timing possible.
The dog reached the end of the wrapped lead, which stopped him with a jerk. He likely thought he was being given a correction by the handler, and ran back to Mike, per standard protocol after a correction. The dog didn’t ask why. He just did what he was told.
Still, it finally made the man pause. At that point, Mike didn’t perceive him as an active threat and chose not to send Jardan back. The man wasn’t giving up; he was still shouting, but at least he wasn’t making forward progress.
Hurricane watched from one side, barking and pulling, wanting to jump in and do what he had been trained to do his whole life. But this was Jardan’s fight right now, and Marshall held tight to the lead.
The man raised up the bottom of his shirt. There could have been a weapon, or he could have been showing he didn’t have a weapon, or he may have been trying to see or show Jardan’s bite on his washboard abs. Or something else.
Mike couldn’t presume to know why, and he couldn’t give the guy the benefit of the doubt. He had to assume the worst. That’s drilled into the team from day one of training.
The intruder continued to shout and not listen to commands.
At 7:16:51, Mike released Jardan, who raced back in.
But the man was swift and strong. Before the dog could make contact, the man kicked him in the head, hard.
Jardan may have been disoriented. Dogs don’t get kicked in the head or anywhere during training. There’s some wrestling, lots of yelling, some mock hits, but nothing hard. This kick to the head was a new one on Jardan. Maybe he thought it was a new kind of correction. Maybe he was disoriented. Whatever the reason, he spun around and ran back toward his handler.
No problem, because Jardan’s old-school chum was poised to explode onto the scene. Marshall gave Hurricane the word.
From the outside it might have looked like an easy decision, but in fractions of a second, a career of experience had come to bear, and Marshall had calculated exactly what he needed to do. He’d been through similar scenarios in training hundreds of times, so it was automatic to go into rapid-fire analysis and action mode.
He loosened his grip on Hurricane’s lead, letting it feed out through his hand as Hurricane lunged. He had to trust his dog implicitly to go for the right guy and not the teammates in front of them.
A dog with less team training could have bitten the first person he came to. But Hurricane had locked in on the fence jumper long before. This guy had kicked Hurricane’s pal. Not cool. Marshall was confident that his dog could have run through a crowd of a hundred people to get to the right target.
Hurricane flew through the darkness, a black flash against the red and blue lights of the Secret Service vehicles in the background. To Marshall, he looked like a superhero leaping forward to save the day. The Dark Knight.
The president and family were in residence that evening. There was no telling if this guy was armed, what his intentions were, or if he was just a distraction for something really bad about to go down.
At 7:16:53, Hurricane made contact with the fence jumper. The dog grabbed the man’s knee, sweeping his leg out from under him and taking him to the ground. A perfect bite.
But the knee was big and muscular, and as large as a Malinois mouth is, it can open only so wide. The fence jumper was able to rip his knee out of Hurricane’s mouth and stand back up.
Hurricane dashed around him and came back in, leaping up and biting him on the arm. The man threw him to the ground, knelt on the lawn, pinned Hurricane down, and punched him hard—one, two, three. Powerful punches, again and again. Hurricane struggled to get loose so he could continue the fight.
The fence jumper got back up, punching Hurricane as he rose. Hurricane freed himself, skirting through the man’s feet, and started in again, chasing him back toward the fence, putting the bite on when he could.
The LED lights mounted on the ERT’s Knight’s Armament SR‑16 rifles cast small circles of light on the man. He could have given up at any time. After one bite, after two. But he kept going, so Hurricane did, too.
Hurricane was trying to get control of him, to be in the dominant position. It wasn’t about biting him time after time. It was about stopping him.
Most people would have quit before the first bite. Some wouldn’t give up until they felt teeth in their flesh. But ERT canine teams train for every possible scenario, and the most determined, hardy suspects—“the less-than-one-percenters”—were not foreign to Hurricane. The big difference during training is that no one was punching him.
Hurricane kept running toward the intruder, pushing him thirty yards back, to the fence line. As the man turned and faced him, Hurricane ran in for another bite and got an arm. The man punched him in the face, so Hurricane changed positions, grabbing his other arm and trying to bring him down to the ground. The guy punched again.
Jardan, barking in the distance, was champing to get back in and finish what he’d started. Mike shouted to Marshall to let him know he was sending in reinforcement.
Jardan streaked in, and at 7:17:23 grabbed onto the man’s free arm.
At 7:17:25, lying faceup on the ground near the Pennsylvania Avenue fence, with a Malinois attached to each arm, he had finally had enough.
“OK, I’m done! Get the dogs off of me!” he called out.
The handlers took their dogs off the bite, staying close in case the man decided he wasn’t done. A six-foot-seven ERT member— who would later go on to become an ERT dog handler— cuffed him. A Secret Service medic provided initial care, but officers had already called the District of Columbia Fire Department, whose paramedics arrived quickly and took over.
Hurricane was still raring to go. Marshall knew from training that his dog’s “off” switch would take a while to reset. It blew him away that after the pummeling Hurricane had taken, his energy and drive were still so high.
But it also made sense. Marshall and the rest of ERT think of every incident as the first round out of twenty. They never believe it’s over when it appears to be over. Normally Marshall immediately starts looking for what to do next. One scenario in training can go on for hours.
He trains Hurricane the same way. So even though his dog was hurt, he wanted to keep going. Round one done, maybe nineteen to go.
But as soon as another dog team infilled for him, he had to get Hurricane to the veterinarian. Even in the dark, on quick inspection with a flashlight, Marshall could already see some swelling and lacerated skin under his dog’s fur. He had taken a fierce beating out there.
Most dogs would not be happy, but Hurricane didn’t seem to notice. This didn’t surprise Marshall either. He seemed to register pain in a different way than most dogs. There was the exposed tooth nerve before he got his first titanium canine tooth, and other incidents in training that should have stopped him in his tracks but that he just shook off. Marshall figured the adrenaline coursing through his dog’s body was helping as well.
He couldn’t praise Hurricane at the scene. Telling a dog in a high voice what a gooooooood boy he is in front of a suspect is just not done. But once they got to the van, Marshall brought him to the side closer to the White House, where none of his guys could see him. He had him jump in.
He had never been so proud. It was the most incredible display of heart he had ever seen.
Hurricane reached out with his paw.
Tap tap tap.
He gave Marshall such an expressive look that he knew just what he was thinking.
Did I do good, Dad?
Marshall patted his own chest a couple of times, and Hurricane jumped up and gave him a hug. Marshall hugged him back, full of such admiration for his partner that he understood what people meant when they said their heart could burst.
“Good boy, good boy, good boyyyy!” he said, again and again, quietly, to his dog.
He knew this dog was willing to take it all the way to the end if he had to. He wouldn’t let that happen for something like this. But when it hit him that his dog would have died fighting, and would have done it with gusto, he choked up.
If the president had been given the all clear to go back to the north side of the White House and had looked out a window, he would have seen a most unusual and heartwarming sight that night.
Excerpted from From Secret Service Dogs: Heroes Who Protect the President of the United States by Maria Goodavage, published by Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2016 by Maria Goodavage.
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