George Orwell’s allegorical fable Animal Farm first coined the phrase, “Four legs good, two legs bad,” in what was a dystopian vision of a revolutionary society ruled by creatures that had thrown off the oppressive yoke of humankind. Although an extreme parable of the Russian revolution, there are direct parallels with our response to economic hardship. If necessity is the mother of invention, there are a number of dog-loving mothers in the world of crime fighting, safety, and loss prevention.
This is illustrated by the way the public expenditure axe has fallen across Europe’s law enforcement borders, revealing that canines are not only clever crime fighters, but also often more cost-effective than their two-legged equivalents as police forces contract in the services from accredited private sector specialist dog handlers on a needs-only basis.
Although this seems a cold and calculated view of the current scenario, there is great affection and admiration for the work of protection and detection dogs in fighting crime. For example, Zak—the 13-year-old springer spaniel police dog that sniffed out more than €6 million worth of cash, firearms, and drugs and worked at events such as Glastonbury and the London 2012 Olympics—has just received a posthumous PDSA (People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals) Order of Merit, the canine equivalent of an OBE, a fact that goes to prove that you can teach an old dog new tricks.
Indeed, “man’s best friend” is not only displaying and performing more daring and audacious skills, but also stepping into the oversized and financially over-stretched shoes of emergency services personnel, as well as adding value to the world of global corporations.
Their superhero talent is their sense of smell as their olfactory glands are 10 million times more powerful than those in humans, and in certain breeds (Labradors and springer spaniels in particular), their nose for the job is even more accurate.
Whereas traditionally dogs have been used passively and proactively for protection and detection, it is the latter skill set that has grabbed the headlines in cases where they have been trained to detect the most unusual contraband—from explosives, drugs, and cash to dead bodies (even those submerged in water), meat and dairy products, listening devices, plastics and rubber, and even terminal illnesses such as cancer before they have taken hold or been diagnosed. Beyond the world of law enforcement, the leisure industry, including hotels, theatres, and airlines are employing dogs to detect bed bugs, those parasites that can make a customer’s journey or stay experience memorable for all the wrong reasons.
Up until around 2008, most police forces ran fully staffed canine handling services, but cuts of up to 20 percent across all UK forces and in Europe have seen those dogs and their handlers moved off the books into either early retirement or, increasingly, into the private sector.
It would be unfair to suggest that the move is without cost-benefit justification for cash-strapped police forces. In his book Security and Loss Prevention: An Introduction, Phillip Purpura says, “In addition to the possibility of a lawsuit if a dog attacks someone, there are other disadvantages to the use of dogs. If proprietary dogs are part of the protection team, personnel and kennel facilities are needed to care for the dogs. These costs and others include the purchase of dogs and their training, medical care, and food. Another disadvantage is the possibility that dogs may be poisoned, anesthetized, or killed. An offender may also befriend a dog. Using a contract service would probably be more feasible.”
There is often public disquiet when the private sector becomes involved in law enforcement, but in this instance, there is a pragmatic acceptance, especially when the sector has become increasingly regulated. In short, dogs and their handlers are jumping through more legislative hoops to underline confidence in the service that they provide.
Such qualifications are essential when it comes to forces providing a transparent audit trail of their procurement decisions as the private market for dog handling companies proliferates as a result of the kind of adversity economics the public purse has been put through in recent years.
Dog Handlers in the Safety and Loss Prevention Spaces
One company that is providing an international dog detection service beyond the police is GSS (Global Support Services), which, as the name suggests, is working for companies with cross-border remits, including retailers with footholds in Europe.
“Our turnover has doubled year on year as clients are looking for rapid deployment and a quality and accredited service. Sixty percent of our turnover is in the dog handling business, and 30 percent of that figure sits in the retail space,” said GSS Managing Director Daniel Mailly.
“We can obviously provide dogs that can detect explosives and drugs in the workplace, but we have also trained dogs to detect very niche products, including one luxury car company that was losing hundreds of thousands of euros worth of stock as the ‘virgin’ or uncoded keys were being sold online for up to €4,500. We were able to train the dogs to detect the specific mix of leather, metal, and rubber in the unique composite of the keys, which resulted in them detecting the stolen keys in a locker at the manufacturer’s site.”
But it is not only crime that dogs are used to eliminate. Risk, in its broadest and more philosophical sense, is providing companies like GSS with a developing role. Drug detection has always been a major part of the offering, and in the UK, for example, organizations are getting tougher on employees who drive for business and are taking both legal and illegal substances.
In essence, this is providing more work for the dogs that are being used as much in health and safety as in retail crime prevention roles. But what about when those substances are so-called “legal highs” and not included in a government-defined list of substances? This is another gray area; although technically no criminal offense has been committed, Mailly said the effects of such drugs are unpredictable and give retailers greater cause for concern. So much so that many are introducing blanket bans on all unprescribed substances and medication because of the impact they have on users.
“This is a real unknown area because these substances are legal. However, with legal highs such as ‘China White,’ the effects are akin to taking cocaine, and users do not know how potent it can be. The results are often devastating and create real health and safety issues in the workplace.
“Our services have been used by many international companies to identify legal highs as part of a broader educational piece to show staff that the effects are far from harmless.”
Another use of the dogs has been for protection and visible deterrent in retail parking lots. In the UK, the parking lot is where many Eastern Europeans congregate and offer their wares to customers as they come out of the stores to their cars.
Daniel Mailly added, “This activity is not illegal, but it is brand damaging for many retailers, as the car parks are attracting a lot of people who congregate and create a sense of discomfort and intimidation, although they appear to be trying to want to help shoppers in return for a tip.
There was one incident when a man approached a young mother in a car, ostensibly to help her. He opened the rear door and tried to get her child out of a car seat, which was obviously terrifying for the woman. Also, many of the people congregating should not have been there for other reasons. Working with the UK Border Agency (which was replaced by UK Visas and Immigration in 2013), one investigation revealed that one-third of the people in the parking lot were illegal, and they were taken in for questioning.
“In these instances, a dog and handler can help to provide a sense of a safe zone,” said Mailly.
In Germany, dogs are being used to detect forged euro notes, a criminal problem that has caused the federal authorities a major headache in recent years.
Paper to print currency is made from cotton and linen, rather than wood pulp, and euro notes are all-cotton. The sniffer dogs react to the ink used to print the notes, though central banks keep the exact composition of their legal tender a closely guarded secret.
While dogs have been used to sniff out drugs for more than forty years, training them to detect cash being carried is more complex and has only existed since 2010.
Dogs seeking cash usually undertake fewer checks. While training for the character of a smell takes only five weeks, detecting cash is much harder for the animals than sniffing for cocaine or explosives, as the smell of money varies more.
As exposed evaders are forced to forego money intended for their comfortable sunset years, the dogs are rewarded with a cozy retirement in the UK. After a decade of service, they move in with their handler, with the government covering food and veterinary expenses for their twilight years removed from sniffing.
So there is no shortage of demand for the forensic accuracy of cash dogs in northern Europe. One customs official compared his canine crusaders to a luxury brand German vehicle.
“If your dog at home that can do some tricks, it is the equivalent to a bicycle, while our dog is a Porsche,” said Marc Behre, a spokesman for the Bremen customs office, which also has a German Shepherd dog trained for cash. “We use only the best.”
So it is a dog’s life across a broad range of criminal investigations with the promise of greater convictions and rewards, a fact fueled by cost savings, adversity, and loyalty, and where four legs are often seen as better than two.