The million dollar muzzles - our top dogs

They are our million dollar noses.

Two detector dogs who are man’s worst friends if you are a drug dealer.

These top dogs have been strategically kenneled in the crossroads of the north, in outback Northern Territory at Katherine.

Drug-busting black labradors Nikki and Bear have sniffed out drugs worth more than a million dollars already this year.

On our calculations the pair have together earned to buy more than 300,000 cans of Pal for their efforts.

Katherine is famous on the grey nomad tourist trail as being the crossroads of the outback, where major highways feed into the town from South Australia, Queensland and Western Australia to head north along the Stuart Highway to Darwin.

Police have long claimed drug dealers use the far north as launching place to penetrate Asian drug markets.

But Nikki and Bear reckon they are barking up the wrong tree.

Together they have helped Katherine police seize 11.1kg of cannabis since January.

Acting Supt Mark Malogorski said a single gram of cannabis can sell for about $100 in remote communities in the NT.

Police canine Nikki joined the force in April last year and spends her days searching for illegal substances.

Nikki’s handler Sen. Constable Jamie Lauder said the dogs were key players in successful drug operations in the region.

“They are taught to detect the odours that we are looking for, then generally a dog will sit when they smell drugs,” Constable Lauder said. “She loves going to work and she loves her job.”

The two dogs participate in vehicle and home searches but also check freight and baggage at Katherine airport.

“They have seized cannabis, a bit of methamphetamine, a lot of kava, ecstasy and some cocaine,” Sen. Constable Lauder said.

Kava is a narcotic produced from the powdered roots of certain trees in the Pacific Islands.

Constable Lauder said a lot of the drugs the dogs discover are not solely attributed to them, their rap sheet only reflects finds the police could not have made alone. 

“She found about 20 kilograms in the back of a car last year, but we were probably going to find that anyway so we don’t attribute that to the dogs,” he said. 

Since the hounds came on board last year they have been on 660 deployments and contributed to 217 seizures. 

Just last week Nikki aided in the arrest of a 52-year-old woman after she sniffed out $12,000 worth of cannabis.

She found 116 grams of cannabis and a small amount of kava, which police believe was being conveyed to remote Aboriginal communities in Arnhem Land. 

To become a dog handler, police must go through a rigorous three stage process. 

“The first stage is to pass an assessment centre, then there is a dog interaction stage to see how you interact with them, then you have to sit down for an interview in front of a panel,” Constable Lauder said. 

The pooches also have to jump through a few hoops before they are taken out on a raid. 

“They are always learning something new, but the official training course goes for six weeks, and then that training is reinforced with a dog training sergeant from Darwin for another six months,” he said. 

Nikki and Bear travel all across the Top End, from Darwin to Tennant Creek and everything in between. 

Nikki is described by her handler,  as a "goofball" who loves her tucker.

Katherine TImes

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