Dell Hart and his partner, an 80-pound black Labrador named Hhoward, have taken many trips as a Transportation Security Administration team that detects explosives.
All were important assignments — to Super Bowls, political conventions, a G-8 summit — that form the core of the Indianapolis-based team’s mission at the TSA. But Hart said their recent trip to New York is the one that stands out in his mind.
Rather than crowds, politicians or superstar quarterbacks, they were met at a Manhattan firehouse by Chris Howard, son of the man for whom Hhoward was named.
George Howard, a New York/New Jersey Port Authority police officer and volunteer firefighter, was among the first responders who died trying to rescue people when the World Trade Center collapsed Sept. 11, 2001. He was 45.
The TSA’s canine ranks includes several dogs named for victims of the Sept. 11 attacks. Those dogs are designated with double consonants at the beginning of their names.
Seven years ago, when Hart was assigned to work with Hhoward, his TSA bosses explained the tradition and a bit about the man for whom the dog was named.
George Howard, who had worked for several years as a Washington, D.C., firefighter, was on his day off when he heard a call on the radio. He arrived on the scene as the first tower collapsed, Hart said.
Hart could choose whether to reach out to the family. He was nervous.
“I didn’t want to stir up bad memories,” he said. Eventually, he wrote to Howard’s mother, Arlene. He said he “wanted to let her and her family and friends know that we were going to be carrying on her son’s legacy.’’
Arlene Howard wrote back immediately, Hart said. And she was heartened to know that her son’s commitment to service was living on in Hhoward.
“It adds a whole other element of pride — a sense of mission,” Hart said of his years working with the namesake of one of the first responders who died on 9/11. “It gives me something to reflect on all the time.”
He said he often shares George Howard’s story with people who stop to chat about Hhoward and their work.
At 10½, Hhoward is edging toward retirement. But he will remain with Hart, living out his days on his handler’s 30-plus-acre spread in Indiana.
And Hart has a plan for his next partner. When he was visiting Chris Howard, he ran into another firefighter whose father had died on Sept. 11. The man asked if the TSA had a dog named after his father. Hart said he plans to ask his supervisors if his next canine can be re-christened in honor of the firefighter’s father. It’s a small gesture, Hart said, but small gestures mean a lot to people.