Labradors join the front line of defence
Thursday 24 Jan 2013 8:12 a.m.
Each year, New Zealand's airport biosecurity teams confiscate over 100,000 items, any of which could threaten our country's multi-billion dollar agriculture industry.
But now there's a new line of defence, and it comes in the form of nine floppy-eared Labrador puppies.
They're being trained to become the country's newest sniffer dogs.
They may seem like a motley bunch, but one day the puppies will be protecting our borders.
"We can house up to 40 dogs and they range from working dogs, through to dogs in training, through to breeding stock and then these guys," says Kirsty Ansell, breeding and kennels manager.
The 'F' litter – Fern, Fleur, Frankie, Flyn, Felix, Flash, Falco and Franklin – is only the second litter of Labrador detector dogs. In the past beagles and mixed breed dogs have been used.
"The reason that we've started using Labradors is because we've started going across multiple pathways, so they're quite useful at the mail centre, at the airport and at cargo," says Ms Ansell.
"They're also user-friendly, so people really like the Labradors.
This is the first time they've used dogs from different services. The bitch is a working detector dog, while the male is a guide dog.
This litter has been in the dog breeding centre since December, but they won't be here for much longer. They'll soon be heading out to private homes, where they'll spend the rest of the year learning how to conduct themselves in public.
Only around half of the puppies will pass their training, and those that do will eventually end up at an airport.
Eighteen dogs are currently working at Auckland Airport, with others in Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.
Around 14,000 people come through Auckland Airport every day, each bringing with them potential risks.
"We've had live animals, insects, a variety of fruit, live plant cuttings, very risky products if they came through and were exposed to our environment," says Craig Hughes, passenger & mail manager.
Last year a fruit fly was found in the Auckland suburb of Avondale, which could have damaged New Zealand's $6.5 billion horticulture industry. But with 100 sniffs every 10 seconds, not much gets past the dogs.
"They love it," says Rochelle Rutledge, canine operations officer. "You can't make them come to work. They've got to want to do this themselves."
And if the puppies aren't up to scratch, with looks like theirs they probably won't have much trouble finding a home.