Editor’s Note: This article is part of “Spotlight,” a recurring series featuring CNMI personalities. To suggest a person to feature in this section, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Six years ago, Leonora Aldan Blas made history and became the first and—so far—the only female brown tree snake canine handler on the island.
Blas, with the rest of the BTS canine handlers, protects the CNMI from the potential damage brown tree snakes could bring to the islands, particularly to the ecology and the economy.
“Being a BTS canine handler is important because we do not want any brown tree snake to come in to the CNMI. We need to protect our island for the future of our children,” Blas emphasized.
A week ago, Blas completed the CNMI Brown Tree Snake Canine Handler Training Program of the Department of Lands and Natural Resources’ Division of Fish and Wildlife. At the program’s “graduation” ceremony, she was heralded by DFW director Manny M. Pangelinan for being the first female BTS canine handler on the island.
“I feel like a canine handler now,” Blas said, after having been paired with one of CNMI’s three new dogs, Travis, through the program. “Before, I never felt like a canine handler, but now I am very proud.”
Blas is particularly proud that the care of Travis has been entrusted to her. “As a canine handler, we have to team up to do our job, we have to spend a lot of hours to learn and get to know each other.”
In her job, she considers dealing with containers as her biggest challenge, but she has no problems as far as working with her dog, saying she enjoys taking care of and working with Travis.
Blas also looked back and recalled the time when she learned about the job, and asked if she could apply as a handler. She was told that she would be the first female on Saipan to have this kind of canine-handling skill.
“I started out hunting for a job, anything for me, because I’m a single parent [and] anything that came up would [have been] okay,” Blas said. “But then, when I got on board, I liked it, and I wanted to pursue being a canine handler.”
Blas has five children—one girl and four boys. Thankfully, her children do not get jealous of the attention she lavishes on Travis, especially since she has to spend a lot of time with the dog. Blas said her children love dogs and animals, and that her children are there for her.
Blas also hopes that her daughter could be the next female BTS canine handler.
“I hope so!” Blas said when asked if she wants her daughter to become a canine handler like her. “Whenever I bring her to work, she is like, “Mom, can I work with you with your dog?”
Blas also said her daughter pets the dog whenever she brings her daughter to the DFW office, or if she goes home with the dog. While her daughter can’t walk Travis, Blas says her daughter loves dogs.
“I hope she can be the next [female BTS canine handler].”
As a woman succeeding in a profession dominated by men, Blas has one strong message of empowerment for other women.
“I encourage young girls to find a job where there is not a lot of women,” Blas said. “I myself is in one, and I am so proud that I am a female canine handler.”