Keith Gray Named 2020 TSA Canine Handler of the Year

Tuesday, December 29, 2020
A little downtime for a job well done. (Photo by Amanda Adams)

As with many of the TSA Honorary Award winners, when you review their accomplishments you wonder if they ever sleep. That’s the case with the TSA 2020 National Honorary Canine Handler of the Year, Indiana Transportation Security Specialist-Explosives Detection Canine Handler, Keith Gray.

 “Throughout the years, Keith has always been a standout handler,” said Supervisory Transportation Security Specialist-Canine Jonathan Erwin.

In 2020, Gray saw the retirement of his first dog, 8-year companion and longtime partner TTirado, one of the last canines from the TSA-bred puppy program.

 TSA Canine Handler of The Year, Indianapolis International Airport TSS-EDCH Keith Gray and Ari at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.
TSA Canine Handler of The Year, Indianapolis International Airport TSS-EDCH Keith Gray and Ari at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. (Photo courtesy Keith Gray)

Participating in a two-dog pilot of working with his retiring partner while preparing his new partner Ari for certification, Gray used the downtime afforded by pandemic-reduced flight loads to log many hours with Ari. The canine grew and transformed under Gray’s watchful eye and encouragement, from a dog having multiple failures at another airport to one with a perfect detection rate.

When looking back at his 9-year canine handling career, Gray says, “I’ve been thankful to have been assigned two great partners along the way—TTirado and now Ari.” 

But this is just Gray’s day job. He is the consummate volunteer, participating in two outside canine organizations – Central Indiana K9 Association where he is currently a board member, and Central Indiana Lab Rescue and Adoption. His passion for the job and to encourage camaraderie within the canine teams is always on display.

Ari and TTirado take a well-deserved rest.
Ari and TTirado take a well-deserved rest. (Photo by Keith Gray)

Internally, other TSA handlers recognize Gray’s passion as he promotes team spirit and fellowship by ensuring that milestone events are recognized, as he did not only for TTirado’s retirement, but for the other recent dog retirees in the unit. 

“Year after year, Keith is the lead recruiter for TSA Indiana’s multi-agency joint training event that attracts more than 100 handlers from around the country,” said Erwin. “He works many off-duty hours putting together the professional flyer which is distributed throughout the canine community requesting participation.”

Since TTirado’s retirement video went live, Gray has been interviewed and featured on local and national TV shows and media outlets, including the Today show, Daily Mail Live, Daily Blast Live, The Dodo, USA Today and Inside Edition. The story was even picked up by The CW network as 1 of 10 dogs they featured during prime time on an annual special called Dogs of the Year.

“I’m thankful that during my career as a handler I have worked with two supportive canine units. The first at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu, Hawaii and now at Indianapolis International Airport in Indiana. Both sites nurtured my passion for this job,” said Gray.