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TAS Country : March 31st 2011
pril 1, 2011 17 er Lance Parremore and Layla during an inspection at the Spirit of Tasmania terminal in Devonport. Pictures: CHRIS KIDD a inspect a van at the Spirit of Tasmania terminal. The dogs are totally trusting of us, so when we ask them to do things that they wouldn't do naturally, like get into tight spaces or walk on a plank over water, they just do it without any issues.' Continued Page 19 ose the iness ose the iness ''Once you give them some boundaries and something productive to do they will settle down pretty quickly,'' Ms Hall said. ''It's really satisfying to see them change, especially the ones that were about to be put down in a few days.'' Each dog works with the one handler throughout its career. ''You do get very attached to them because you're working with them every day,'' Ms Hall said. ''The dogs are totally trusting of us, so when we ask them to do things that they wouldn't do naturally, like get into tight spaces or walk on a plank over water, they just do it without any issues. ''We are very careful in the way we handle them to make sure they don't get injured, so we lift them when we need to and things like that.'' The program includes dogs ranging in age from two to 11 years old. Once they are trained, the dogs can work productively for many years in the field. Ms Hall said they preferred smaller purebred beagles for airport work, because they are less intimidating for people who may not be familiar with dogs. ''Beagles never really lose their puppy looks with those big floppy ears, so we find people don't mind being sniffed by them,'' she said. However, to inspect vehicles at Devonport, slightly larger and taller dogs are needed, so they are generally beagle-harrier or beagle-foxhound crosses. The team also includes a kelpie, which is used for more difficult inspection environments in enclosed spaces or on higher areas. Each dog is assessed during the initial training stages to make sure it has the right temperament for the job. ''We want dogs that can handle being in crowd situations and aren't worried about all the noises that you get in a busy environment like the port,'' Ms Hall said. It takes about 12 weeks of intense training before the dogs are ready to go out into the field. For the first few months the newer dogs work in conjunction with an older, more experienced dog until they are performing consistently. Ms Hall said the dogs were taught different responses depending on the environment they were working in. For airports, where the dogs are sniffing people's hand luggage, dogs are taught the passive response and sit when they smell something suspicious. However, when inspecting vehicles the dogs use an active response, pointing to the area a scent is coming from with their paw. The dogs are trained to find a huge range of products, from plant material right through to egg and fish materials, and even other animals. Ms Hall said sniffer dogs were much faster and more effective at detecting possible quarantine breaches than people could ever be. ''Their sense of smell really is amazing,'' she said. ''They will find things that we would never be able to.'' Ms Hall said most of the time quarantine breaches were not intentional. ''Sometimes it's just an apple that's rolled under a car seat and no one even realises it's there, but the dogs will find it,'' she said. Ms Hall said sometimes the teams made unusual discoveries, such as a pet Mexican walking fish called Charlie that the owner did not realise was a quarantine risk. ''Education is a really important part of what we do and that's why there are signs everywhere, but sometimes people just don't read them and that's when the dogs come in,'' she said. ''Dogs don't discriminate and when they walk past and sniff someone we get the information we need without even having to ask them a question.'' Ms Hall said sometimes things were found in unexpected places. ''Things happen, like the family in Queensland that have their gumboots sitting at the back door, they pick them up to come away on holidays and don't know there's a cane toad happily sitting in there,'' she said. ''And I never trust handbags -- you'd be amazed at the things you find in handbags.'' When they are not at work, sniffer dogs are kept in secure kennel environments where they can relax. Ms Hall said they were not exposed to normal households and associated smells because this could interfere with their ability to work properly. To ensure the sniffer dogs are working effectively, they are audited independently every three months and must achieve a very high success rate to keep working. ''Obviously because we're talking about quarantine, anything that gets through could be potentially devastating, so we need to make sure the dogs are working well all the time,'' Ms Hall said. As well as routine airport and port work, the sniffer dogs are also used at other times, such as during cruise ship visits. On most days the dogs at Devonport will inspect between 180 and 200 vehicles. Adrian Hatten, Quarantine Tasmania area manager for the North-West region, said that as well as being highly effective, the sniffer dogs were a visual reminder to visitors about the importance of quarantine. ''We try to educate people as much as possible before they get to the state, so we have a lot of information in Melbourne, and there are places there where they can dispose of anything that can't be brought into the state,'' he said. ''If we do find something though, there's a process that is worked through and part of that is determining if there was intent to bring in something that's a quarantine breach.'' Mr Hatten said in most unintentional cases the prohibited material was confiscated and destroyed and the people were given a warning. However, when there has been a clear intention to import prohibited materials, infringement notices can be issued and people can be prosecuted. ''If we believe education is the best tool, we'll educate, but we do have other enforcement measures we can use,'' Mr Hatten said. As the state's main region for fresh product imports, quarantine officers in the North-West are also kept busy inspecting the thousands of consignments that are bought into the state each year.
March 24th 2011
April 7th 2011