Third time lucky for top sniffer dog

By Kristin Edge

A German shepherd which was given a reprieve from death row has turned his life around and is now a champion when it comes to sniffing out drugs.

Archie, the 5-year-old pure-bred shepherd, along with his experienced handler Senior Constable Ross Clarke have claimed the national title from the best sniffers in the narcotic business.

This week the combination was part of the police teams carrying out the annual blitz on cannabis in Northland. But life could have been much different for the canine crime fighter, who developed a taste for lamb while living in Whangarei.

Former owners Don and Elsa Nightingale, of Glenbervie, adopted the the energetic dog from the Alsatian Rescue Centre on the North Shore in 2008, when he was about 15 months old.

The story goes he was owned by a doctor but had spent most of his life in a fenced section. Mr Nightingale reckoned when the dog felt the grass beneath his feet in Northland he just couldn't stop running and tracking.

"He was so full of energy and he was fantastic at finding things. We taught him all the basic commands and he was quick to learn," Mr Nightingale said.

The couple had sheep on their lifestyle block and they had trained the dog to ignore them.

But a phone call by a neighbour alerted to them to Archie killing a sheep.

"We knew we couldn't keep him and having him put down was an option. But we approached Whangarei police dog handler Phil Kahotea to see whether he was a suitable to be trained as a police dog," Mr Nightingale said.

Mr Kahotea, an experienced police dog handler, said Archie showed good aptitude to learn, so gave him a chance to train to become a frontline general duties dog. However, things didn't work out.

Fortunately Auckland-based narcotic dog handler Mr Clarke needed a replacement dog. Yet again Archie was given another chance.

And this time he found his niche.

During the past three years they have clocked up more than 100 successful drug finds.

Last year the combination confirmed they are best in the business by claiming the Narcotic Detector Championship title from teams from police, customs, corrections and aviation security.

They also won the silverware for highest marks in locating white powders.

"He had success on his first job and it's rolled on from there. He just loves working it's all a big game for him," said Mr Clarke, who has 42 years' experience in the police and 32 years as a dog handler. Working on the cannabis eradication operation was an excellent opportunity to work in a rural environment which was different to the urban situation in Auckland.


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