Former TSA canine TTirado is enjoying the slow days of retirement.
His 40-hour work weeks are now consumed with naps and snacks, but he is also keeping busy by digging away at his retirement bucket list.
In a 2020 story announcing TTirado’s retirement from service, Keith Gray, TTirado’s handler, listed three goals the duo wanted to accomplish during his partner’s golden years.
“I have three travel objectives for TTirado,” Gray said in the article. “New York City and the Ground Zero Memorial and FDNY Station 23 where his namesake (the late firefighter Hector Luis Tirado Jr.) worked, Atlanta to meet one of Hector’s sons and his family who we have kept in touch with, and finally to San Antonio to see his foster family who helped raise TTirado during his puppy years.”
The packed list is well underway thanks to a little luck and a lot of internet fame.
Three years ago, TTirado was in the midst of retiring from his TSA canine service when COVID-19 halted the usual activities surrounding his huge accomplishment. Gray worried his partner wouldn’t get a proper send-off and brainstormed a new kind of celebration to acknowledge TTirado’s years of dedicated service.
Gray gave TTirado a legendary retirement party, dropping nearly 200 tennis balls for the canine’s final airport alert. The videos from the event went viral, hurling TTirado into canine fame.
“He was featured on the Daily Mail, there was a clip shown on Fox News and he was on the Today Show and Inside Edition, too,” Gray recalled. “He was also one of 10 dogs featured on the CW Network’s annual special ‘Dogs of the Year.’”
TTirado’s viral run resulted in more than just a few moments of celebrity status. His videos were widely shared and helped spark an online interaction connecting Gray back to the canine’s namesake family.
TTirado was a part of the TSA-bred puppy program and is named in honor of New York Engine 23 Firefighter Tirado Jr., who died in service on 9/11.
“When I was first partnered with TTirado, I learned of the naming system and who he was named after,” Gray said. “I wanted to learn more about who Hector Tirado Jr. was, and I did a lot of internet searching. I came across a couple different family members who posted things about Hector and sent them a nice email, but our communications were very short-lived.”
The wife of Tirado’s son came across one of TTirado’s retirement videos on Facebook. She reached out to Gray, and the two started talking, creating a renewed link between the families.
“I was able to share the story of who TTirado was and who I am and how TTirado got his name,” Gray said.
They remained Facebook friends with a promise that the families would meet when the opportunity arose. When Gray and TTirado were recently in Nashville for the Project K9 Hero’s annual benefit concert, Gray got the chance to check that item off TTirado’s bucket list.
“With us being in Nashville for the event, I thought ‘Well, Atlanta [where Tirado’s son lives] is four hours to the east of where we will be,’” Gray said. “TTirado is 13 years old, and he's in good health, but you never know if anything might change. If we don’t do this now, it may never happen.”
Gray jumped at the opportunity and planned an impromptu reunion with the Tirado family.
“I met them at a local outdoor park with eateries. It was the perfect place,” Gray said. “Seeing them in person definitely brought it all home. Just one of those full circle moments. It was so exciting for me to meet the family – Hector, his wife and their three daughters.”
The group spent the afternoon talking about Tirado’s legacy and reminiscing.
“To watch the kids, who are Hector's grandchildren, play with TTirado, throwing the ball for him and having a good time was an amazing experience,” Gray said.
It was a special evening that Gray and the family celebrated with pictures and new memories.
“I think it definitely meant a lot to Hector and his family to know that TTirado was named after his father and that we're working to keep his legacy alive,” Gray said. “For me, it's a big reminder of why we do what we do. It's still a job at the end of the day, and you get complacent and tired. But then you get to meet these real people and know how much you affect their lives. You are reminded of why our work is so important.”
By Kimberlyn Pepe, TSA Strategic Communications & Public Affairs