Airport security has been in the news a LOT lately. Firstly, there was the failed attempted bombing of NWA Flight 253 on Christmas Day, by a guy who's come to be known as the "Pantsbomber".
Then we had the at-first amusing but then plain scary "TSA-fail" saga which dragged Flying With Fish's Steve & Elliot.Org's Chris into the spotlight after the Department of Homeland Security issued them with subpoenas for posting copies of a TSA-issued security directive on their blogs. The motivation of their postings? To clear up confusion for travellers in the midst of some truly confusing and strange new 'rules' brought about after "Pantsbomber" failed at his mission.
What has followed has ranged from tightening of security procedures at some airports, to what can only be described as 'knee-jerk reactions' at others. In the renewed debate about what is 'acceptable' in security matters, the use of detector dogs seems to have hit a nerve with some, as mentioned by Bobby from Up, Up And A Gay.
The use of detector dogs has been a regular occurence in Australian airports for quite some years. (First in the late 60's in fact). Both Customs and Quarantine use the dogs throughout Australian airports for passenger screening. Dogs are used to detect such items as drugs, prohibited food items and explosives. The breeds used are generally Beagles for Quarantine, and labradors/retrievers for Customs.
More threatening dogs such as German Shepherds tend to be reserved for the defence forces, police or Customs enforcement work (i.e. outside airports when apprehension of suspects may be needed)
There's a really great show on tv here, which is very popular with the public, called Border Security. It has been a great PR exercise for the agencies featured, not only because it reassures the public about what goes on in airports and what to expect wwhen travelling, but also because it can act as a deterrent to those who think smuggling illegal items into or out of Australia would be easy.
Australia has some of the toughest Quarantine & Customs laws in the world, and rightly so, because thus far the country has remained relatively free of pests and diseases that plague the rest of the world.
Dogs are also used for explosives detection, but for obvious reasons I'm not going to go into too much detail about them. Suffice to say they are there and they are at work.
As the officer says on tv, if you have nothing on you, you have nothing to worry about. I regularly encounter both Customs and Quarantine dogs in the course of my travels. They are always very friendly, the handlers generally leave you alone and don't engage in conversation unless something is found, and the dog will usually move on after a brief "sniff" if there's nothing of interest. I'd hardly call the procedure "Invasive", and dogs don't sniff your private areas like some think they do. Here's two great clips from Border Security which show just how these dogs go about their daily business. As you can see with the Frenchman, the dog sits in front of him and never actually touches him when 'sniffing'.
Dog reacts to passenger, prompting secondary searching, but nothing is found, so no worries for her!
In my opinion, anything which adds an extra layer of security protection to air travel is a good thing, and as you can see, when handled correctly, dogs are a great tool in the fight against illegal activity in airports. If you're travelling through an airport, and are approached by a dog- stay calm, let it sniff you, leave your bag alone if it's on the ground, and don't touch the dog. If you need to do anything else, the handler will tell you.
The training Australian dogs receive is so good, that other countries are even asking for dogs to be trained for their own operations, and have been assisted by the Queen herself!
If you have any questions on airport security, or travelling to/in Australia, just leave a comment below.
Puppies: The Age.com.au
Airport Lines: PerthAirport.com.au
Handler & Dog: Customs.gov.au