City imports three drug-sniffer dogs from mainland

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 June, 2006, 12:00am

Three Labrador retrievers will spend their summer at a boot camp in Tuen Mun before starting work as customs drug-sniffer dogs.

Charles, Jackson and Kim are the first mainland-trained drug-detection dogs brought to Hong Kong to relieve a shortfall in customs' dog numbers.

They arrived from Yunnan early last month and will finish their acclimatisation course by October, when their quarantine period ends.

The sniffer dogs were given to the city as part of increased co-operation between Hong Kong and mainland customs.

The recruits received basic training from mainland instructors. Their Hong Kong handlers also flew to their home at the Ruili Detector Dog Base for a six-week course with their new partners.

Language will not be a problem - the dogs have already learned English commands. At the beginning of the course, mainland Customs chose six dogs from about 300 candidates for Hong Kong Customs and each of the handlers was assigned two dogs. After two weeks, the handlers and their mainland instructors chose which of the two would go to Hong Kong.

Customs officer Chow Yeuk-wan said it was a difficult moment. 'I felt a bit sad when having to part company with the other one, but given that's how the course works, I had no choice but to get over that sadness and work even harder,' said Mr Chow, Charles' handler.

The three Labradors are the first of 12 mainland-trained sniffer dogs that customs will use. Three more are scheduled to arrive this year, with six - possibly of other breeds - to come in 2007.

The dozen mainland recruits will go a long way towards easing the shortage of customs dogs caused by retirements and the opening of new border control points. Nineteen of the department's 29 sniffer dogs are due to retire and five new dogs are needed to fill posts at new control points.

In the past, all sniffer dogs and their handlers were trained in Britain at about $140,000 a pair, while training in the mainland costs just $25,000.

Customs will evaluate the effectiveness of the mainland-trained dogs before deciding whether to import dogs only from the mainland in the future.

Before a sniffer dog can join the detector unit, it has to learn the smells of eight kinds of drug: cannabis, cannabis resin, ketamine, Ice, Ecstasy, opium, cocaine and heroin. As well as recognising these eight, the dogs should be able to sniff out other drugs that use some of these basic ingredients. The smartest dogs take only an hour of training to recognise each smell.

Since 2001 customs dogs have been involved in 40 drugs smuggling cases involving $21.71 million.