Revenue detector Bailey shows dogged determination once he gets the scent
Last year canine units seized €26m worth of drugs, tobacco and cash
In the An Post Dublin Mail Centre in Dublin 12, hundreds of people are hard at work, but none work as hard as Bailey, a Revenue detector dog who scents packages for contraband.
The 2½-year-old labrador jumps from basin to basin, sniffing postal orders for drugs or cash, determined to prevent any from entering Irish households.
On Tuesday morning he found a package from San Jose, California which he believed to be suspicious. To let his handler Alan Foley know, he sat and stared at the box until Foley opened it and examined its contents.
Inside the two cardboard boxes was a layer of paper, bubble wrap, vacuum wrap and then individual sealed bags. Inside the sealed bags was about 14g of herbal cannabis and cannabis resin, worth some €140 on the Irish market.
Bailey is one of 19 Revenue detector dogs which carry out checks on parcels and freight coming into the country.
Dog teams are trained to detect drugs, cash, cigarettes and, in some cases, food. Last year the Revenue canine units seized €26.11 million worth of drugs, tobacco and cash.
Most dogs start work when they are around 18 months, and their careers normally span six to eight years for a healthy dog, before retiring into their handler’s care.
The initial cost of a detection dog team is approximately €100,000, which includes the dog, salary of the handler, eight weeks’ training, a dog transport van, kennel and associated security at the handler’s home.
The ongoing annual costs are in the region of €40,000 which includes salary, allowances, uniform, food, vet bills and other related costs.
Every day in the dog unit is different, Foley says. They are a mobile unit so they move around from airports, ports and postal centres.
Bailey and Foley normally work for around 30 to 40 minutes, and then take a 15-minute break before starting again. When Bailey finds an illicit substance he is scenting for, he is rewarded with a game of fetch.
Foley says that it is all about “positive reinforcement”, and that there are no consequences or repercussions if Bailey makes an error.
Paul McPartlan, the national dog programme manager at Revenue, said that much of the illicit contraband they find would go unnoticed without the aid of the dogs’ noses because it is often so well concealed within packaging.
He said the detector dogs currently working in Ireland were all either labradors or springers because they were “less intimidating” when scenting people.
“For every 10 dogs we train, only four of five will make it. The others will kind of fall to the wayside during the training. They have to work in every area so the dogs can’t be rattled by noise and have to be very calm.”
Mr McPartlan said that it was very important for handlers and dogs to develop a close relationship so that handlers could read the behaviour of their animal.
He recalled an incident during a training exercise in Rosslare port a number of months ago when a dog entered a freezer unit that was carrying meat from Spain.
The dog went down to where the meat was located and started circling around. This is not how the dog was trained to indicate he had found a substance, but the change in behaviour alerted the handler to something unusual. When the handler went to see what the dog was looking at, she found seven refugees hiding in the freight.
“It was because of the change in behaviour that we figured out what was going on. Handlers have to be able to read the behaviour of their dog and understand what they’re communicating.”
Bailey has been working as a detector dog, or sniffer dog as they are also known, for the past 18 months. He finds something almost every day, Foley says, and sometimes finds up to 30 illegal substances in one shift.
“Everything that he does is all just natural to him. It’s effectively like hunting to him. He’ll have this scent that he’s trained on, and he will just do everything he can to bring us back to that source.”