They may look friendly, furry and cute, but the K-9 unit of the Dubai Police Department means serious business. The 79 trained dogs are not just there for show and tell but their honed instincts have achieved a success rate unrivalled by man. Be it tracking a burglar ...

By Bindu Rai

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Published: Mon 16 Feb 2004, 3:00 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 12:35 AM

through the back streets of the city or sniffing bags at the Dubai Airport in search of illegal substances, the dogs are always ready for any challenge.

Says Lt. Abdul Salam M. KH. Al Shamsi, head of the Dubai Police K-9 unit and Forensic Science: "Our department has come a long way since its conceptualisation in 1976, with only six dogs and trainers.

"At the time, the dogs were trained only in narcotics search, tracking and sniffing cars. Today, we have units specialising in cadavers, missing persons, suspect searches, explosives and crowd control."

Over the years, the importance of a police K-9 unit has increased internationally, with Al Shamsi claiming the change is due to the Sept. 11 attacks in the US. "Until recently, investment in a K-9 unit was deemed unprofitable, especially with the latest technological advances that have replaced man and animal globally. But the world has finally woken up to the fact that no matter how advanced a machine may be, it cannot search accurately in nooks and crannies for explosives."

Aside from diverting disasters, the dogs have also proved their mettle in search and rescue operations, with recent successes including the Bam earthquake in Iran and the Kish Air plane crash in Sharjah.

"We sent four police dogs to Bam - two cadaver dogs and two search and rescue," says Al Shamsi. "The K-9s proved to be a great help in locating survivors under all that debris.

"In the Sharjah plane crash, our dogs were only able to locate bodies that had been thrown at a great distance upon impact."

Most of the time, the operations are handled under the cloak of darkness, as not to alert any suspicious characters. With Dubai being a cosmopolitan city and actively participating in global events, security concerns are even more important and require a lot of sensitivity.

"One of our biggest operations was conducted during Dubai 2003 last year," he admits. "Our K-9 unit was first on the scene, with sniffer dogs, cars and explosive experts conducting all the necessary fieldwork before the VIPs arrived. And needless to say, the Annual Meetings went off without a hitch." Asked whether the dogs found anything during the operations and Al Shamsi states that it is classified information.

The Dubai Police K-9 unit has played a large part in keeping the city streets safe with their small-scale operations.

"Last year, a villa was burglarised in Al Aweer. Our tracking dog was not only able to find the loot - which was concealed under a tree - but he was also able to trace the scent to a nearby labour camp and pick out the culprit who was sleeping on his cot in one of the rooms. "We were able to trace the scent to a nearby labour camp and pick out the culprit who was sleeping on his cot in one of the rooms."

This sort of expertise requires ample training and the Dubai K-9 unit spares no expense in getting the best handlers and equipment for their dogs. Before starting any training, selecting the right breed is extremely vital, especially one that can handle the harsh summer climate. Al Shamsi says that German Shepherds, Labradors and believe it or not, Cocker Spaniels are ideal choices.

All the dogs are rigorously trained for six months, with the sessions split into three separate programmes. "The first step is to create a special bond between the animal and its charge. This is not as easy as it seems and can take up to two months for that trust to form," he says. "The next step is to train the dogs in the nine specialised sub-units we have and in the end, place each dog in the unit that they excel in."

The dogs are trained everyday, if not outdoors, then in a special indoor auditorium, which Al Shamsi had built so the training wouldn't come to a halt during the summer heat. Aside from the training itself, an in-house vet has a medical file on each dog and carefully masters the weight and the food intake.

"We have to take special care, especially now when we are averaging over 3,000 cases a year and only 79 dogs to handle the increased demand," he highlights. "But the Dubai Police Department has been a great supporter and we hope to increase our unit by next year."

In the meantime, the dogs continue their efforts in sniffing out the bad guys with finesse.

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