Dogs help keep borders safe

16:00, Feb 11 2014
Sniffer dogs
TEAMED UP: Amy Oatridge, left, her dog Ollie, Michelle Stebbing and Egypt the labrador are two of the Ministry for Primary Industries biosecurity detector dog teams.

They've only been in the job a few months but Auckland Airport's newest employees have a nose for trouble.

Three-year-old labrador Egypt and beagle Ollie are biosecurity dogs responsible for sniffing out plant matter and food being brought in by passengers arriving at the airport or on cruise ships at the Ports of Auckland.

They joined the ranks in December after graduating from a 10-week detector dog course with their handlers Michelle Stebbing and Amy Oatridge.

For now they work around the carousel area where passengers come to collect their bags.

It's a good introduction before they move on to other areas of the airport.

Ollie and Egypt are passive responders which means they sit when they find something.


The trick for Miss Stebbing and Miss Oatridge will be learning to recognise the subtleties, like how intense the behaviour is, to know if the dog is giving a false response.

"Everyone else here makes it look easy," Miss Oatridge says.

The handlers were teamed up with their canine partners a few weeks into the training course.

They started out working with a range of dogs before finding the right fit.

Miss Oatridge knew fairly early on that she would end up with Ollie.

"As soon as I worked with him I had a feeling," she says.

"But at the end of the day it's the trainers that make the decision."

Miss Stebbing also hit it off pretty quickly with Egypt.

Being partners means sharing the success.

The detector dog teams also work at the international mail centre. One of Egypt's biggest finds so far has been picking up two letters containing seeds in a tray of hundreds at the mail centre.

"It's exciting for them because they are getting their bickies but its exciting for you because you've put in all the time and training and getting a result," Miss Oatridge says.

Both women already worked for the Ministry of Primary Industries but moving to the dog detection team was more of a calling, they say.

Miss Stebbing has spent most of her life working with animals and Miss Oatridge got her inspiration from watching Border Patrol and Dog Squad.

The career change has been a talking point for friends and family.

"Everyone has a million questions like ‘do the dogs go home with you?' "

The dogs don't live with their handlers but stay at Ministry of Primary Industries kennel facility near the airport.

The dogs can't be taken home because they would be exposed to many different scents, trainer Sarah Dyer says.

"And at the end of the day they are working dogs, not pet dogs."

East And Bays Courier