Dog, man’s close partnership earns DFW canine handler top honor

Friday, March 18, 2022
Seamands and Hhilbert photo

Man’s best friend – That’s truly the case for David Seamands and his dog, Hhilbert.

For nearly three decades, dogs have been a big part of Seamands’ life. They’ve worked together around-the-clock to protect the public, from the time Seamands was in the U.S. Army until now.

TSA recognized Seamands for his extraordinary dedication by naming him the agency’s 2021 Canine Handler of the Year at the annual TSA Honorary Awards Ceremony.

Hhilbert photo
Hhilbert (right) joins Burro from Kansas City International Airport on the baggage carousel at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. (Photo courtesy of David Seamands)

Seamands, a canine handler out of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), calls it an honor and a shock to be recognized but isn’t accepting the award alone. His canine partner, Hhilbert, who retired in December 2021, played a key role.

“This award is more for him than for me,” Seamands emphasized. “Hhilbert is just plain amazing. Our partners don’t call in sick. Going through the motions in our line of work isn’t allowed. It must be good, quality work.”

Hhilbert is named in honor of U.S. Army Cpl. Thomas Layton Hilbert from Venus, Texas, who gave the ultimate sacrifice to this great nation on Sept. 7, 2007, when he lost his life in a roadside bombing in Afghanistan.

“[Hhilbert] continued Cpl. Hilbert’s legacy of protecting and fighting for our safety and freedom,” said Seamands. “It was an honor to work with a partner who had the shoulders to carry this heavy weight. That is a lot to live up to, and I can attest that Hhilbert did that every day of his career.”

After becoming a canine handler in 1993 while in the Army, Seamands joined TSA as a canine handler in 2012, partnering with Hhilbert for nearly 10 years and now working with his new canine, Luger. However, Hhilbert is still with him in retirement.

“He gets plenty of snacks now that I don’t have to worry about him getting snacks off the floor in the terminal,” Seamands joked.

Seamands shares his award with his team at DFW, saying, “It is more of a team award in my eyes. I would not be allowed to excel if it wasn’t for my team here at DFW and the other staffs I have had the opportunity to work with, not only in 2021, but my entire 30-year career in all aspects of the canine field.”

Hhilbert at gravesite of namesake photo
Hhilbert at the gravesite of his namesake, U.S. Army Corporal Thomas Layton Hilbert, who was killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan in September 2007. (Photo by Kathleen Chandler)

In 2021, Seamands and Hhilbert provided canine support for Kansas City International Airport’s (MCI) TSA team and police, tracking cargo at MCI, and took the lead in developing training and mentored new and existing canine teams.

“The opportunity to support a police department as a canine team in support of the same mission – to provide safe transportation to the public – was a task I not only wanted but felt I needed,” Seamands said. “A gap needed bridging between TSA and police canine teams. I had a police background and have always wanted to bring the teams together.”

He said canine handling was a calling.

“I love dogs, and it interested me,” Seamands said. “You have to dedicate your entire being to your partner. It is not for everyone. The dedication is always, not when you feel like it. There isn’t any equipment or tool on the market efficient or as good at detecting explosives as a canine. The time preparing and maintaining a great canine is endless. The rewards are endless if you put in the time.”

He said anyone can hold a leash and walk a dog, but he believes very few can be successful canine handlers.

“I want to THANK my wife, family, teammates, trainers, supervisors, management and the many people I have sponged knowledge off of over the years. You are all true professionals, and I would not be in a position to be recognized like this without my encounters with you.”

By Don Wagner, TSA Strategic Communications & Public Affairs