CNMI Division of Customs Capt. J.J. Atalig said they are looking to reopen the Pacific Regional Detector Dog Training Center that had been closed for almost a decade. The center became a dog shelter after 2005.
Atalig, the program’s chief instructor, said they have been collaborating with Customs director Jose Mafnas and Finance Secretary Larrisa Larson in the said project. Customs is one of the divisions under the local finance department.
“I applaud them [Larson and Mafnas] for all the support they’ve been giving us, especially Gov. [Ralph DLG Torres] in regards to the K9 program and the special enforcement branch in Customs,” Atalig said.
The center began its operations in 1999 where they helped in the training of their counterparts from American Samoa and Palau as well as assisting both island nations to begin their own respective K9 programs.
“We helped them from the bottom… from infrastructure, resources, and training. For a while, our friends out there have been asking for our assistance. But after 2005, we weren’t able to provide assistance to them because of lack of funding and little support,” said Atalig.
He added that because of renewed government support, led by Larson and Mafnas including Torres, they were again able to provide assistance to the CNMI’s island neighbors. “We’ve opened the door to Guam and recently came back from Palau.”
“We had a very good meeting with their Customs director and Finance [secretary]. They asked if we could provide assistance in the reassessment of their programs and evaluate the dogs that they have now,” said Atalig.
He added that he sought the blessing of his superiors before moving forward with the program of seeing if their dogs have the capability of doing Customs work.
Mafnas said the last time he visited the facility was in 2014 with the center becoming a dog shelter.
Torres said he was still the lieutenant governor back then and was on an acting capacity as governor when he last visited the center. He then asked Mafnas if they wanted to reopen the facility as he promised that the administration would give its full support to the K9 program.
“Right now, we are ready to open. We already have inquiries and we’re also grateful we have the attention of [the Oceania Customs Organization] and endorsed us to chair this year,” said Mafnas.
Torres said his administration fully supports Customs. “If you support and believe in the leadership, the officers would work better. We’re going to continue to fund their programs. We’re working to get a full container X-ray, which is more than $1 million. That’s a lot of money but compare that to the lives that we’re going to save.”
“Once we get that [container X-ray] we’re going to save lives for a long time. But even without [X-ray], you’re still doing a good job. We’re glad that things are moving forward as we continue to bust [illegal contraband],” added Torres.