DUBAI // With her compact stature, good nature and inviting carpet of yellow fur, Leonie looks more like a cuddly household pet than a seasoned police detective.
But the seven-year-old golden cocker spaniel has earned her stripes on the force by sniffing out criminals who try to evade the law.
"We can use a small dog like Leonie for tight spots," said Dubai Police Corporal Abdullah al Sayed.
"If a suspect leaves any of his personal belongings at a crime scene, our dogs can easily pick them out from a line-up."
Leonie is an integral part of the Dubai Police K-9 programme.
It began in 1976 with only six trainers and six dogs, but has expanded to accommodate 86 trained police dogs and 56 trainers.
With responsibilities ranging from finding people in earthquake-ravaged buildings to sniffing out drugs or hunting down explosives, the dogs are invaluable members of the force.
Major Abdulsalam al Shamsi, director of the K-9 training department, said police recognised the importance of dogs on the force because they "save time, effort and money".
The K-9 programme has taken on international importance. In 2007, the UAE - including the Dubai and Abu Dhabi K-9 departments - became the first Arab country to join the International Rescue Organisation (IRO) based in Salzburg, Austria, according to Major al Shamsi.
The IRO, an organisation for the best-trained rescue dog organisations in the world, aims to save people's lives.
"If anything happens in the world like an earthquake, we get a message. Our dogs have been sent on missions to help locate missing people in Pakistan, Iran and Indonesia," Major al Shamsi said.
"Think about how much time a dog needs to find a missing person during an earthquake - they have a speed and an awareness that saves both lives and effort."
The dogs trained by Dubai Police come from special breeders in Europe, and have had to prove themselves in a police training programme abroad before coming to the emirate.
"The dogs come to us when they are about one to two years old, and although they have the orientation to be police dogs, they would not have specialised in a particular area yet," explained Major al Shamsi. "For about four to six months, we train them locally."
Although the dogs receive daily exercise, they also get assessed every few months to ensure they are performing to the best of their abilities.
Police dogs such as Leonie and her colleague Maggie, a nine-year-old black Labrador, are some of the oldest dogs in the department, and their experience proves useful in the training of younger recruits.
"Some of our newer trainees are matched with an already trained dog, so they can learn the basics before they start giving other dogs obedience courses," explained Corporal al Sayed.
Koy, a four-year-old black German Shepherd, for example, looks far more intimidating than Leonie and demonstrates a sharp focus when he is on a mission to find drugs.
During a recent mock training session at Dubai Police Academy, Koy waited anxiously for his trainer's orders before dashing forth to sniff out suitcases that may contain an illegal substance.
In less than a minute, he had identified a bag, tugged at it and barked to let his trainer know that he had completed his job. His compatriot, Linos, a black Labrador, is tasked with a more dangerous mission - finding out if there are explosive materials in a car.
He sniffs around the car, recognising that it is not safe, then sits down to indicate he has detected explosives.
"Dogs trained to detect explosives are taught to sit nearby if they find anything so as not to trigger the explosive," said Corp al Sayed. "The dog adapts to the trainer's personality. If the trainer is courageous, the dog is as well."
Leonie's trainer, Aisha Ali, who also works in the K-9 training department, said she enjoyed her job. "I really like working with the dogs and find the profession fulfilling, especially if someone has the desire to succeed at it."