RAS AL KHAIMAH // A chance viewing of a television programme has led Ras al Khaimah's police dog unit to invest in a special kind of canine in its fight against smuggling and terrorism.
Lt Col Khaled al Merri, who heads the unit, was watching the National Geographic channel while it was showing a documentary on the Sulimov breed, which is part jackal and part husky and has a keen sense of smell. He was fascinated by the broadcast, which led him to wonder whether the cold-weather animals, used by the Russian airline Aeroflot, could handle warmer climes. There was only one way to find out: a few phone calls and a 7,000km trip to Moscow. Impressed with the Sulimovs, Lt Col al Merri decided to bring them to RAK, where police have a growing squad of about 50 dogs. Negotiations are under way to make permanent kennels for the Russian imports at the al Dara border crossing into Oman, a favourite with smugglers, as well as RAK's airport and central jail.
"If we make more inspections, we have to have more dogs," said Lt Col al Merri. "Each [Sulimov] can work for 30 minutes, then take 30 minutes rest. In my experience I would like to have a dog work 30 minutes and rest for two or three hours." At least two sniffer dogs would be stationed at the central jail and airport. Seven or eight of them would work at the border, where cargo enters the UAE from Oman. A significant amount of it, including illegal drugs, comes from Iran, 54km away across the Strait of Hormuz.
The Sulimovs, proven commodities in the Moscow chill, were to be tested in the heat of the Emirates as Riv, a two-year-old male, and Piaf, a five-year-old female, arrived from Moscow with an entourage of caretakers last week. After a day of rest, they were taken to the border and given time to adjust before being put through their paces in what must have been unusual circumstances for them. "We had a small rise in temperature, there were different smells around them and a lot of people watching these dogs," said Lt Col al Merri. "Animals are like us. If you go to a new place you find a new situation and new challenges."
A short, subdued bark and a frantically wagging whorled tail showed Piaf could hardly contain her excitement as she trotted through a warehouse, giving a few brisk sniffs to a set of shelves before focusing on a nearby couch. She looked at her trainer, buried her long nose in the couch and gave it a quick scratch for good measure. Deep in its cushions was a piece of paper wrapped around a tiny quantity of explosives. The traces of TNT were so small that they were invisible and odourless to humans. Still, it was no problem for Piaf to find it and she was rewarded by her trainer with a pat and a treat.
Another test went just as smoothly. Sensitive paws on hot rocks and a series of unfamiliar scents did not distract Riv from quickly finding a gram of TNT hidden under a truck carrying a cargo of pungent goats, pleasing his prospective master. "I was watching very closely," said Lt Col al Merri. "After five or ten minutes they were relaxed. They adapted, they feel good here." That was all the more remarkable, since temperatures during the exercise were as high as 41°C, not exactly the Sulimovs' usual working environment. Elena Bataeva, their Russian trainer, said the heat and surroundings offered unusual challenges for the breed, which has a thick coat of fur.
"In hot weather conditions there are a lot of smells," she said. "They can get the necessary smell quickly but because of the heat working in these conditions is very difficult for dogs." Still, trainers said they were well pleased with the Sulimovs' performance and the quality of canine care available for police dogs in RAK. The first RAK Sulimov recruits are expected to arrive in three months to start training with the emirate's dog unit.
"I would be happy if the police department had our dogs because the care is perfect," said Galina Kogun. "They would be in good hands." @Email:email@example.com