Odd one out: A wags to riches tale

Upper Hutt Leader - - FRONT PAGE - JES­SICA LONG

‘‘[For] some of our com­mands, we raise our hands – and the sight of that used to make Tas­man cower and uri­nate her­self as she thought that she was about to get hit.’’

Three years ago, she was lead­ing a life of crime, steal­ing ten­nis balls from a court in Blen­heim and mas­ter­ing the game ‘catch me if you can’.

Now, a stray, cross-breed saved from a life of home­less­ness has over­come a stroke to be­come one of the coun­try’s best drug dogs.

Tas­man, who was first named Banjo, be­longed to no-one when she was even­tu­ally caught and taken to a pound. There, she was given a seven-day death sen­tence.

But some­thing about this brown and white pooch gave her a life ex­ten­sion and that’s when the po­lice dog han­dlers re­ceived a call.

The pound ex­plained they had a stray that seemed to have the qual­i­ties of a de­tec­tor dog, but wasn’t what the force was used to. All de­tec­tor dogs are ei­ther labradors or shep­herds.

Put through some sim­ple drills the po­lice took her on the spot and she was later flown to the po­lice Dog Train­ing Cen­tre at Tren­tham, Up­per Hutt.

At the same time, se­nior con­sta­ble Matthew Fage was about to be­gin a nine-week drug course. He would be part­nered with a new dog af­ter his last work­ing com­pan­ion sud­denly died.

Fage was asked to train a ger­man shep­herd and Banjo who was set for a fu­ture in Raro­tonga as a drug de­tec­tion dog.

Train­ing wasn’t smooth sail­ing but Banjo was meet­ing her tar­gets. In the end, she ran rings around the other dog, grad­u­ated, and Fage de­cided to take her on.

She needed a name and Fage set­tled on ‘‘Tas­man’’.

Hav­ing been a dog han­dler for 19 years, work­ing with ger­man shep­herds, Fage said the pair re­ceived some side­ways glances. Col­leagues would tease, ‘‘It’s not bring your pet to work day’’.

She’s a real char­ac­ter with a zest for life but Fage could tell she was a victim of abuse.

‘‘[For] some of our com­mands, we raise our hands – and the sight of that used to make Tas­man cower and uri­nate her­self as she thought that she was about to get hit,’’ he said on the Welling­ton Po­lice Face­book page.

‘‘She’s well-loved now and grown out of it but it’s very sad to know what she po­ten­tially went through in her past life.’’

Tas­man had only been work­ing with the po­lice for under a year when she be­came paral­ysed one morn­ing, drag­ging her back legs.

Fage rushed her to the vet who weren’t sure what had gone wrong. It turned out Tas­man had suffered a stroke of the spinal cord and there is no cure.

But there’s hope that in time she will over­come her dis­abil­ity. The move­ment in her right leg came back about an hour af­ter Tas­man’s stroke.

With a lot of ded­i­ca­tion and care, Tas­man is on the mend. Her left leg is now 90 per cent func­tional.

Last Septem­ber, Tas­man and Fage were se­lected to com­pete at the NZ po­lice dog’s na­tional tri­als where the top two de­tec­tor dogs from the po­lice, cus­toms and cor­rec­tions com­pete for the ti­tle as the best drug dog in the coun­try. They placed sec­ond.

Tas­man is now the only non­pedi­gree New Zealand po­lice dog as all other pa­trol dogs are ei­ther ger­man shep­herds and are sup­plied by the po­lice dog breed­ing pro­gramme based at the Dog Train­ing Cen­tre near Welling­ton.

Pa­trol dogs are mainly used to track and search for peo­ple while many of them are also trained for search and res­cue, victim re­cov­ery, Armed Of­fender Squad du­ties and drug de­tec­tion.

De­tec­tor dogs are are trained to sniff out nar­cotics, firearms, cur­rency and ex­plo­sives and are mainly ger­man shep­herds or labradors but springer spaniels and cross breeds are used too.


Po­lice dog Tas­man (known as ‘‘Tas’’) is the only cross-breed an­i­mal in ser­vice. In­set, her dog han­dler, po­lice of­fi­cer Matthew Fage. Se­nior con­sta­ble Matthew Fage

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