From a bleak future in the council’s pound to high-flying duties at Wellington airport, the 15-month-old Labrador’s prospects are really looking up.
Impounded repeatedly because his owners couldn’t contain his determination to escape and roam the neighbourhood, Lynx now works as an explosives detection dog for Aviation Security Services. He also travels around the country carrying out bomb-detection work when VIPs visit the country.
His luck changed when Hutt City Council animal control officer Jan Schuitema noticed his alert temperament.
“I’m always on the lookout for suitable dogs for the police and aviation work,” she says. “The right sort of dog should be very energetic, friendly and – most importantly – obsessed with finding and retrieving. Lynx fitted all those categories.”
Lynx’s handler, Elisa Walters, agrees. “We put all prospective dogs through a 14-point checklist before taking them on for training, and Lynx resoundingly ticked every box.”
After completing a nine-week course at the police dog training centre in Trentham in March, Lynx immediately went to work at the airport, and, according to Elisa, has settled into the job superbly.
Lynx will head north permanently later in the year. Elisa is transferring to duties at Auckland airport, and because of the rule “one dog, one handler”, where Elisa goes, Lynx goes too.
She says a dog handler’s life involves round-the-clock responsibility: when not at the airport, Lynx comes home with her. The task of feeding, exercising and generally caring for him does not stop – though she loves every minute of it.
There are perks for Lynx: an excellent (if controlled) diet, fine accommodation (his kennel is insulated and state of the art), and veterinary care is the best available.
Elisa says the money spent on training and caring for a sniffer dog over the years can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. But it’s a sound investment because they are one of the most versatile and reliable tools in the service’s arsenal.
Their detection skills are virtually flawless. That is hardly surprising for an animal whose olfactory system (that’s nose to you and me) is said to be as much as 200 times more sensitive than that of humans.
Elisa’s boss, Sergeant Glenn Turner, says the smell of properly trained sniffer dogs is so acute that they can distinguish the component parts of explosives. No one breed is particularly suitable – though Labradors and German Shepherds predominate. The key is the temperament of each animal. New charge: Dog handler Elisa Walters keeps a close eye on Lynx in the departure hall of Wellington airport.