Two detector dogs and a giant cake will be part of the festivities at the Christchurch A&P show today, as the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) celebrates 20 years of its biosecurity dog programme.
The event is taking place at the MPI stand with ministers Steven Joyce, Nathan Guy and Jo Goodhew also in attendance.
The first biosecurity programme beagles were purchased by MPI in 1995, and two began work sniffing away at baggage at Auckland airport soon after.
MPI Border Clearance Director Steve Gilbert says the detectors dogs have proven to be very effective at keeping New Zealand free of pests and diseases that could be entering in travellers’ luggage.
"They can pick up seeds and plants that can be hard to detect by X-ray," he says. "They also screen people faster than X-ray."
The sight of a beagle trotting through the airport and snuffling at bags sends a strong message to incoming passengers that New Zealand takes biosecurity very seriously, Mr Gilbert says.
An expansion of the MPI detector dog programme is planned for the busy summer season ahead, with 24 dog teams graduating from training in December – the largest number to graduate at one time, MPI says.
With the addition of a litter of the longer-legged harrier hound puppies joining the team, there are hopes to breed 'super' detector dogs by cross-breeding them with the beagles currently working at the airports.
"We've come a long way since our humble beginnings in Auckland 20 years ago," Mr Gilbert says.