New worker doggone good

Detector dog handler Belinda Phelon and Zeta, Queenstown Airport’s first permanent detector dog, at work yesterday. Photo by Christina McDonald
Detector dog handler Belinda Phelon and Zeta, Queenstown Airport’s first permanent detector dog, at work yesterday. Photo by Christina McDonald

Queenstown Airport's first permanent biosecurity sniffer dog is already proving her worth, with 13 ‘‘busts'' in her first four days.

The keen nose of beagle Zeta has led to 13 confiscations or ‘‘seizures'', including a mango, grapes, bananas, cucumbers, cooked meat and apples, which handler Belinda Phelon and a colleague agreed had already proved her value.

Even an empty Tupperware container which previously housed a ham and cheese sandwich did not escape Zeta's primed sense of smell - she sat patiently while Ms Phelon checked the container owner's luggage at the airport this week.

Ms Phelon said Zeta, a Minis› try for Primary Industries employee, was trained to detect fruit, meat, seeds, plant materials, reptiles and eggs from international flights and had experience working in Auckland.

The beagle's colleague, Ulric, used to be brought up from Dunedin occasionally and in May a ministry spokesman told the Otago Daily Times the possibility of having a permanent dog in the resort was being discussed.

The ministry said Zeta's arri› val meant biosecurity sniffer dog teams from Dunedin would no longer have to be brought in to screen international flights.

‘‘The deployment will help MPI meet the demands of the busy summer peak season,'' Border Clearance Services manager Steve Gilbert said.

Ms Phelon admitted working as a detector dog handler was her ‘‘dream''. Yesterday was her fourth day of working with Zeta after serving for 13 years as a quarantine inspector at Queenstown Airport.

She graduated from training as a dog handler at a ceremony in Auckland last week, along with 36 other new biosecurity front›line staff destined for ports throughout the country.

Zeta will wear her uniform five days a week and even has her own business cards.

christina.mcdonald@odt.co.nz