Dynamic dogs defending our borders
There’s a new set of paws on deck at the Auckland biosecurity centre.
Boston, a three-year-old springer spaniel, has joined the ranks at the Ministry for Primary Industries facility in Mangere.
The pooch is the country’s first ‘‘incursion detector’’ dog and is being specially trained to sniff out pests such as plants, lizards and exotic birds.
Unlike biosecurity detector dogs, which intercept food and live animals at airports, ports and mail centres, Boston’s job is to locate pests ‘‘if they do slip through the border’’, senior canine handler Alan Willox says.
Biosecurity dogs cannot be used for the task because they could be distracted by food odours while working in the field.
‘‘His first job is to find a particular weed that’s known to exist in pockets around Auckland,’’ Willox says.
‘‘It’s in a wider environment, it’s not indoors, it’s not in an airport, so it’s a new set of skills.’’
Boston was originally a pet but came to the centre after Willox spotted him for adoption on Trade Me.
Many of the country’s 40 detector dogs have been found through the site – Willox has bought two beagles and two labradors from there in the past month.
He looks for dogs with ‘‘a high play drive and a high food drive’’ and Boston fits the bill, he says.
The canine is being trained using lizards loaned from Reptile Park in Rodney.
It’s hoped he will be joined by another incursion dog in the near future.
Boston’s arrival is just one of the moves being celebrated by the biosecurity centre.
An 18-month project to revamp the detector dog programme has also seen 10 new kennels built at the centre, which is about a kilometre from Auckland International Airport.
That’s a boost to the programme because 15 to 20 puppies need to be bred each year to replace retiring dogs, canine handler Kirsty Ansell says.
The two newest additions, nineweek-old Darcie and Darwin, are about to head out to private puppy walkers before beginning their training.
The number of dogs and handlers working at the country’s borders has also swelled to 40 each – up from 32 last year.
Among the newest recruits are beagle Clara and her handler Lucy Telfar, who began work last month.
In Clara’s first week on the job she sniffed out plant material in a bag at the airport, which led to a find of a number of high-risk items.
As a result, immigration officials refused the passenger entry into the country and she was sent back to Vietnam.
Go to aucklandcityharbour news.co.nz and click on Latest Edition to see Boston and Clara in action.
Leisure time: Black labradors Fern and Frankie explore their pen. Detector dogs work for four days and then have four days’ rest.
Top dog: Senior canine handler Allan Willox says both dogs and handlers need to be energetic to cope well in the role.
New nose: Nine-week-old Darcie is one of the newest biosecurity detector dogs in waiting. The Ministry for Primary Industries estimates it costs about $30,000 to breed and train each puppy.
Trail blazer: Below, Springer spaniel Boston is the country’s first incursion detector dog. Fruity find: Clara hits pay dirt – a pair of oranges.