Working dogs inspire writer

LIZ WILLIS
Last updated 05:00 07/01/2014
Working Dogs

DREAM TEAM: Mushing a team of sled dogs in Wanaka was a bucket list experience for Maria Alomajan.

Working Dogs
TOP DOGS: Author Maria Alomajan is a dog trainer who helps with rescue groups and promotes animal welfare. Her dog Jet was once a starving street puppy.

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Dogs do jobs we find impossible.

Their sense of smell is so keen they're used to track down everything from the tiniest hotel bed bug to explosives in war-torn countries.

Dogs actions to save lives and help humans touched author Maria Alomajan so much she wrote a book about them.

Dogs in Action tells the stories of working dogs - from digging for avalanche survivors to alerting their deaf owners to a crying baby.

There are dogs in war zones doing such vital work they have a higher bounty on their heads than the service men and women.

There are even dogs that track whale droppings floating in the sea to aid environmental research.

So amazing are their talents they can smell droppings a kilometre away.

Maria, a Takapuna resident, has always loved watching working dogs put all their senses to work.

She's not keen to pick favourites from her book but is amazed by the work of explosive detection dogs.

"A human response is to say how incredibly brave they are but they have no idea and love it."

Their reward is a simple pat on the head, a treat or even just a stick.

"Dogs trained to search for landmines not only save the lives of the soldiers," she says. "They're returning huge amounts of land to the community. There's a sense of safety that returns after years of living with the threat of being blown up."

Maria got insights into their work after befriending United States Army Sergeant Garrett Grenier.

She contacted him through an online campaign to boost rations for dogs and handlers working in places like Afghanistan.

The pair started emailing after she sent snack food packs and strong toys to them.

Her book describes how Sergeant Grenier's dog Drake clears a safe passage through mine infested areas in return for just some love and his favourite toy. Maria's passionate research for the book forced her to confront her fears.

She overcame claustrophobia inside a snow cave 1.5 metres deep at Treble Cone so she could feel what it was like to be found by search and rescue dogs.

"You can hear the noise of the dog and loud breathing as they get closer. You hear barking and see their face and the relief is enormous."

It amazes her that for training in Switzerland people are buried 2 metres underground with a snowmobile covering any evidence.

Her "bucket list experience" was mushing a team of sled dogs in Wanaka.

Among the team was Blaze, a petite Alaskan husky lead sled dog who has travelled a mind-blowing 40,0000 kilometres plus over 12 years, including four Yukon quests.

Maria says many dogs have an endless ability to learn but not all make it as a working dog.

She had high hopes for her own dog Jet, who has a great work drive.

He turned out to be too much of a scaredy-cat to do the tough stuff like search and rescue and too much of a foodie to be a truffle hunter.

But he has stared in TV adverts and photo shoots.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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