Puppies sniff out chance in Hong Kong search teams

Customs and prison services unveil latest English springer spaniel recruits in fight against crime

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 August, 2016, 4:37pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 August, 2016, 12:19pm

Seven English springer spaniel puppies bred by the government are next in line to join Hong Kong’s rapidly ageing sniffer dog force.

Atom, a female dog from the Correctional Services Department (CSD), and Barney, a male dog from the Customs and Excise Department, were chosen to breed the new batch of recruits, now three months old.

“English springer spaniels are energetic, smart and have a strong sense of smell. They are the perfect dog for drug searches,” Louis Cheng, second officer in charge and head of the joint breeding programme at the correctional services dog unit, said.

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The puppies start their 12-week training from the age of one. For now however, they are enjoying a life of leisure, Cheng said.

He told how the pups spend their days playing with toys, running up and down stairs to assist in the development of limb coordination or walking over bridges for balance. Officers also get to play with the puppies and build their interest in finding targets.

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When they grow into adults, two of themwill go to customs where they will likely be settled at cross-border control points.

The remaining five will stay with the CSD where they will undergo additional training to detect a number of materials and substances at the city’s correctional facilities.

The joint programme ensures the highest quality of dog breed
Irene Chan Suk-yin, Correctional Services

“The five that will stay with the CSD will likely become search dogs mainly targeting drugs, mobile phones and even home-brewed wine, which some prisoners make with oranges and rice provided in jail,” Cheng said.

CSD penal operations chief officer Irene Chan Suk-yin said the joint breeding programme was developed in response to the ageing population of the department’s current service animals.

Some 31 of the 66 CSD dogs will reach their retirement age of eight next year. Eleven are springer spaniels. It is unclear how many of the customs’ 49 service dogs are due for retirement.

“The joint programme ensures the highest quality of dog breed. It secures the supply of dogs to both departments and is also an important exchange of experience for both dog units,” Chan said.

In addition to breeding programmes, the government relies on buying dogs, including German shepherds, Kunming wolfdogs and Labrador retrievers from mainland China and overseas.

Chan said joint breeding programmes with the Fire Services Department and the police force were possible.

“Although we have a lot of ­advanced technology to detect prohibited items, sniffer dogs are still very important because they act as another layer of security and ensure that we carry out our job effectively,” said Wong Ho-nam, inspector at the customs’ detector dog division,.

“What’s more is that they will never be tempted by money!” he laughed.

According to customs, sniffer dogs identified 14 drug traffickers between January and Julywith 70kg of illicit substances worth an estimated HK$70 million.