Demand forces police drug dogs to put off retirement

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 April, 2010, 12:00am

Some of the city's hard-working and highly skilled drug sniffers are to have their retirement delayed because of soaring demand for their services.

With the number of calls last year increasing by 64 per cent over the year before, the police plan to boost the number of their specialised drug-detection dogs from 10 to 25 by the end of next year. The number will be boosted by breeding new dogs, but until they are ready, dogs nearing retirement age of eight to 10 will have to stay on an extra year or so.

Of the 176 dogs used by the police, 34 labradors are used in drug detection and tracking, with 10 specialising in detection. About 10 of the 34 will have their retirement delayed

'An additional 15 drug detection dogs will be in service by next year,' Chief Inspector James Lee Cheuk-wai, head of the dog unit, said yesterday during a media tour of the unit's Sha Ling headquarters. 'They will do patrols and be deployed to roadblocks for drug detection.'

He said health would be a prime consideration in deciding which dogs stayed on longer.

Of the other dogs used by the police, 110 Belgian shepherds and 12 German shepherds do patrols, while 20 English springer spaniels handle explosives detection.

Drug-detection calls for dogs increased 64 per cent from 144 in 2008 to 236 last year, police figures show. Actual turnout of dogs, with more than one being sent in some cases, rose 46 per cent from 180 to 262. Drugs were seized in 14 cases last year and eight cases in 2008.

Narcotics division officers usually call for a police dog to do a detailed search of crime scenes and drug factories to find hidden drugs. While some community leaders have suggested the force send drug dogs to schools to deter drug use, Lee said no such request had been received. 'The force has a clear guideline if police dogs are deployed to a school, and consent from the school principal is essential,' he said.

One dog that has made a contribution to the dog troop is Belgian shepherd Antje, who went missing for 10 days in February and has since given birth to eight healthy pups - one male and seven females - fathered by a dog at police headquarters.

Her offspring, which went on show with their one-time fugitive mother yesterday, have been named Velma, Venus, Vijay, Verdi, Veta, Vicky, Viggo and Volley.

In 2009, eight Belgian shepherds and seven Labradors were bred by the force. Puppies are adopted by selected host families under a police programme of care and support to enable the development of sound character and working temperament before returning to the force to start training at the age of 18 months.

Antje will resume duty in the middle of next month.

Lee said she had escaped by leaping over the fence of her kennel in the Cheung Sha Wan police station at about 3.20am on February 7.

'Antje is a good jumper and it was found that she used a steel water bowl near the kennel window as a step to jump out,' he said.

Railings at kennels of several police stations - Cheung Sha Wan, Ma On Shan and Sha Ling - are to be raised after a review of security.

The three-year-old pregnant Antje was found in Kwai Chung, about a kilometre from the kennel, after a public appeal.