Federal Explosives Detection Dog Survives Two Life-Threatening Conditions

detection dog

Story at-a-glance -

  • Ike, a 7-year-old German Shepherd, is one of only 11 highly trained dogs that help detect explosives and firearms for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)
  • In January 2016, Ike received surgery for bloat, also known as gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV), a life-threatening twisting of the stomach
  • Days later, he received another life-saving surgery for mesenteric volvulus, a rare condition in which the intestinal tract twists

By Dr. Becker

Ike, a 7-year-old German Shepherd, has one of the most dangerous jobs in the U.S. He’s a specially trained canine partner to Jeff Perryman, an agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

Only 11 dogs in the U.S., Ike among them, are trained to work with ATF to help track down potentially violent suspects. As part of his service, Ike is trained to detect explosives and accelerant, among other things.

He’s an expert at tracking scents and can even be let off leash in pursuit; he knows to stop when given a signal and wait for agents to catch up. Ike recently found himself in a life-threatening situation, but it wasn’t his law-enforcement work that nearly took his life.

First, Ike Suffered From Bloat

In January 2016, Ike began showing symptoms of bloat, also known as gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV). This is a life-threatening condition in which the stomach becomes bloated then twists or rotates around on itself, cutting off the blood supply to internal organs.

It’s estimated that 30 percent of dogs with GDV will not survive, and the condition requires emergency surgery to untwist the stomach and tack it to the inside of the abdominal wall to prevent a recurrence.

The most important survival factor for GDV patients is the time that elapses between presentation of symptoms and surgery — so it’s crucial to get your dog to an emergency veterinary facility immediately if symptoms occur. What are the symptoms of GDV?


A very bloated or distended abdomen,



Unproductive vomiting

Abdominal pain


Shallow rapid breathing

Pale gums

GDV is most common in large and giant-breed deep-chested dogs including not only German Shepherds but also the Great Dane, Doberman Pinscher, Weimaraner, Newfoundland and others.

Other risk factors include gulping down food, eating a primarily dry-food diet (another reason why I don’t like kibble) and exercising or drinking large amounts of water shortly after eating.

In Ike’s case, Perryman took him to an emergency clinic while on the road near ATF’s National Academy in Brunswick, Georgia and his stomach was successfully untwisted. They then travelled home to Michigan, only to find that Ike became violently ill again just days later.

Mesenteric Volvulus: A Rare Condition

Perryman rushed Ike to the Michigan State University Veterinary Medical Center. First, the veterinarians thought he was having complications from his previous surgery, but an ultrasound revealed he actually had mesenteric volvulus, a rare condition in which the intestinal tract twists. All the blood flow to Ike’s digestive tract had been cut off.

Ike underwent another life-saving surgery and his intestines were successfully untwisted. According to the Lansing State Journal, “ … the odds of survival were slim … Yet Ike pulled through, with Perryman staying through the night in his large cage during recovery. Ike would howl when Perryman tried to leave.”1

Ike was lucky. As reported in Clinician’s Brief, “onset [of mesenteric volvulus] can be rapid and acute, and the prognosis is grave, especially in German Shepherds.”2

The prompt surgery likely saved him because, as with GDV, research suggests delays in surgery may account for the high mortality rate associated with mesenteric volvulus.

Symptoms of mesenteric volvulus are similar to those of GDV and include the following. If you notice any of these in your dogs, get emergency veterinary help immediately.

Abdominal pain

Abdominal distention (bloat)

Bloody stool

Pale mucous membranes (gums)

Rapid heartbeat

Weak pulse

Ike Is Continuing On With His Life-Saving Missions

Ike’s tough spirit and perseverance showed, as he lived through not one but two potentially deadly conditions in a matter of days. He will now be able to continue on with his life-saving missions alongside Perryman, who told the Lansing State Journal:3

“Everything is very clear to him. He learns quickly. He loves to train, loves to work. He enjoys people. He understands when to work and when to play

It’s like a family member that goes to work with you every day, that goes home with you every night, and throughout that time period, they watch your back and protect you … He’s tremendous.”

While every dog’s life has value, Ike is clearly one incredible pooch. ATF-trained dogs like Ike have taken part in a number of major investigations across the U.S. alongside their special agent handlers.

As members of ATF’s K-9 unit, the dogs first spend 12 weeks learning to recognize more than 19,000 explosives compounds along with firearms and spent ammunition.

They then go through another 13-week training course with their handlers learning how to search in open areas, buildings, warehouses, bus lots and more, often off-leash. According to ATF’s National Canine Division Chief John Ryan:4

“ATF S.E.E.K. teams are unique, because the off-leash capability gives the agent in the field a new deployment option with the canine based on the threat level. Over the years ATF’s explosives detection canines have located crucial pieces of evidence at hundreds of crime scenes.”