A stray dog that spent her early life stealing tennis balls near a Blenheim park has earned a "chilled out retirement" after becoming one of the country's best drug dogs.

In a rags to riches-style tale, Tasman the sniffer dog was saved in the nick of time from being euthanised at the pound so she could be trained as the New Zealand Police's only non-pedigree working dog.

She was now retiring after serving her "tour of duty", her handler, police dog instructor Sergeant Matt Fage, said.

Tas has sniffed out more than $1 million in cash over her work life, and has found drugs hidden away in places humans would never have found.

Advertisement

Fage remembers one job in Tokoroa where Tasman - nicknamed Tas - helped find a hidden compartment in the ground underneath a huge set of shelves, where someone had hidden drugs and $40,000 in cash.

Sergeant Matt Fage will be adopting Tas as a pet now she has retired. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Sergeant Matt Fage will be adopting Tas as a pet now she has retired. Photo / Mark Mitchell

"They would never, ever have found that."

She also placed second in the detector dog category at the National Police Patrol and Detector Dog Championships in 2017.

Tas' police journey began earlier in 2015 when she was found living in a park in Blenheim, stealing balls from the neighbouring tennis courts. She was put in the pound and was a day away from being put down when she was rescued by the police.

Police had been contacted by someone at the pound who thought Tas might have qualities they were looking for.

"[The officer] took her on the spot."

She was sent to Upper Hutt to train alongside a German shepherd puppy at the dog training centre with Fage.

Earlier this year, Matt Fage took Tas back to the park in Blenheim where she used to live as a stray. Photo / Supplied
Earlier this year, Matt Fage took Tas back to the park in Blenheim where she used to live as a stray. Photo / Supplied

Tas was earmarked to work as a drug dog in Rarotonga, but when the German shepherd failed to make it through the course, Fage decided to work with her himself.

Advertisement

She had been named Banjo, but Fage renamed her Tasman.

"I wasn't going to call a dog Banjo, no disrespect to anyone called Banjo," he said.

Not much is known about her, but the vets estimate she was 18 to 24 months old when she was caught by the pound, and that she could be an American staffie crossed with a collie.

Fage said she was the only dog in the New Zealand Police that had been taken out of a pound for work. All the other dogs are bred at the centre in Upper Hutt.

"She was beaten when I got her, it was obvious she had a hard life if I raised my hand or stamped my foot."

Tas' hardships didn't end when she became a police dog.

After a year working with Tas, Fage went out into his yard one morning to find her back legs "paralysed". Vets confirmed she had suffered a stroke, caused by a blood clot in her spinal cord.

Tas managed to quickly regain use of her legs, and while she did not suffer pain she still walked with a slight limp, Fage said.

Had she not recovered, Fage said he would have paid to have the leg amputated and would have kept her as a pet.

"She deserved it coming from the life she had."

Drug dog Tas will have plenty of time to play with owner Sergeant Matt Fage now she has retired from police work. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Drug dog Tas will have plenty of time to play with owner Sergeant Matt Fage now she has retired from police work. Photo / Mark Mitchell

He said Tas was a "pretty special dog" and the "nicest" one he had ever worked with in his 20 years as a handler.

"Just her whole nature, you know?"

Fage had the option of keeping or rehoming Tas when she retired, and decided to keep her.

"To be honest with you, I couldn't get rid of her. She's going to be my mate," he said.

"She's had such a hard life ... she's served her country for five years, she deserves, you know, a nice, chilled retirement."