Canine handler saves groundhog at Dulles

Tuesday, August 24, 2021
Handler Tibbs and groundhog photo

A TSA canine handler got a new temporary partner when he teamed up with a groundhog at Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD).

Groundhog released photo
Shelby Tibbs releases the groundhog along a nearby creek. (Photo courtesy of MWAA)

As he finished a round of training with his canine Dux, a German shorthaired pointer, Shelby Tibbs noticed a groundhog scurrying around an IAD runway. Seeing the groundhog run for cover, Tibbs was concerned for the safety of the animal, which appeared to be suffering from the hot sun.

“It was really hot that day, and the tarmac felt like more than 100 degrees,” said Tibbs. “I ran him down, wrapped a leash around him several times and picked him up.”

Tibbs, who has a background in animal care and has his rabies vaccination, was careful to wrap the leash in the groundhog’s mouth so it would not bite or be injured.

Dux stayed in Tibbs’s air-conditioned truck while Tibbs worked with personnel from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) to transport the groundhog to a creek just outside airport property, where he safely released the animal.

“I think [the groundhog] wanted to catch a flight to someplace cold because it was very hot that day; I guess he couldn’t buy a ticket,” Tibbs joked. “But he was a very good passenger while we drove to the nearby creek.”

Wildlife on airport runways are a risk to their safety and the safety of airplanes and other vehicles that move along airport operations areas along the tarmac and runways.

Tibbs said he was glad to help the lost groundhog. Airport personnel have since dubbed Tibbs the “groundhog whisperer.”