Income dogs help sniff out record 75m drugs and tobacco

Revenue’s team of 25 sniffer dogs detected a record amount of illicit drugs and tobacco last year, resulting in the seizure of over €75 million in contraband and €322,000 in criminal cash .

The transportation of €52 million in drugs and €23.1 million in illegal cigarettes was the highest annual figure ever recorded for detector dog-assisted seizures and was almost double the previous two years combined.

Records released under the Freedom of Information Act show that €14.7m of drugs and €8.4m of illicit tobacco were seized with the help of sniffer dogs in 2020, as well only 902,000 euros in cash.

In 2019, detector dogs were responsible for €13 million in drugs and €3.8 million in illegal cigarettes seized by the tax authorities, as well as €373,000 in criminal cash.

The sniffer dog team is made up of 12 Labradors, nine springer spaniels as well as a collie, a cocker spaniel and a Breton hunting dog. Their names include Bear, Elvis, Merlin, Waffle and Laddie.

Individual performance statistics against dogs remain a closely guarded secret for operational and safety reasons, so they collectively take credit for every successful grab.

Detector dogs live with their handlers and are stationed at strategic locations across the country, allowing them to be deployed at ports, airports and postal depots.

They also regularly assist other agencies such as An Garda Síochána and the Criminal Assets Bureau in specific operations, and their detections lead to successful convictions and the disruption of criminal trafficking activities.

Front line dogs

A spokeswoman for the tax department said dogs and their handlers operate on the “front line” and are “an integral part of our enforcement approach”.

Some are single-scented, while others are multi-scented and can be trained to detect a range of illicit materials. Some dogs on the team can detect the four main “street drugs” – amphetamine, heroin, cocaine and cannabis – while others are specifically trained to detect tobacco and money.

“All of our income detection dogs are trained to be versatile; this means they are deployed to screen both people and cargo,” the spokeswoman said.

“They can intervene in the control of passengers or postal parcels, the search of warehouses, commercial or private premises, of all types of vehicles, freight shipments and the luggage of air or sea passengers.”

A team of canine sniffers can deep search an average warehouse in about 30 minutes, while the same task can take four or five officers up to two hours, she added.

And when it’s time for detector dogs to hang up their customs harnesses, they can look forward to a pleasant retirement, as they generally remain in the care of their handlers, the spokeswoman said.