There was a notable first and some familiar faces – human and canine – at the most recent graduation from the Dog Training Centre at Trentham.
The main first was a kava ceremony in honour of four detector dog handlers from Fijian Police and Customs who were graduating as part of the Pacific Detector Dog Programme (PDDP).
The familiar faces belonged to veteran dog handler Senior Constable Lyal Bayliss and detector dog Luther as they graduated, ready for service back in Canterbury.
Also graduating was first-time handler Senior Constable Zoe Eginton, who is based in Tāmaki Makaurau with four-year-old detector dog Villa.
“The tasks the trainees have faced under the scrutiny of the trainers while replicating their day-to-day variety of operational work are not always easy,” says Inspector Todd Southall, National Coordinator Police Dogs.
“Weeks away from home and hard training are put aside when the handlers receive their graduation certificates.”
Luther is Lyal’s fifth operational dog but his first narcotics detector dog after 18 years' working with patrol dogs, including on the Armed Offender Squad and in search and rescue.
In 2009, Lyal received a Bronze Merit Award for apprehending - with his dog Duke - an offender armed with a knife, followed in 2021 by a Gold Merit Award for his arrest of another armed offender, this time with patrol dog Brock.
Luther was the last dog handled by Senior Constable Bruce Lamb, who died in May. Bruce had several dogs - notably patrol dog Gage, who lost his life when he was shot protecting Bruce in 2010.
“It’s very special to get Luther,” says Lyal. “He’s so capable - I’m his taxi driver. If he could open the car doors and drive, he wouldn’t need me at all.”
His previous dog, nine-year-old Nox, is now on pet duties but still has the work ethic. “He would jump in the van before Luther if he could. He wants to get out and about with us when we go to work.”
Lyal’s advice to would-be dog handlers – have patience and perseverance. “It takes time. It would pay to foster dogs, it will allow you to be with dogs, learn some things, understand the difference between a pet and a working dog.”
Zoe, with 15 years’ experience in frontline and CIB in Wellington District, has always wanted to be a narcotics dog handler and jumped at the opportunity when it arose.
“I was inspired by police officers like Al Campbell and Matt Fage who were dog handlers when I was first on the street out of college.
“I decided then I wanted to start fostering dogs. I’ve even kept a ‘foster fail’, who’s my pet now, Cinda. She’s a bit of a princess, but my Villa and Cinda get along like sisters, so it’s a good fit for us.”
Todd Southall took the opportunity of the graduation on 23 November to praise the success of the PDDP, which is managed by Police and New Zealand Customs.
“The programme focuses on transnational organised crime and regional security across the Pacific so it made perfect sense to honour the Fijian graduates by celebrating with a traditional Fijian kava ceremony,” he says.
“It’s a first for us, and we think it was very successful. I can see us doing this again.”
Constable Ilimeleki Leweiloma, of Fiji Police, is looking forward to getting to work with detector dog Herb, who was fostered by veteran trainer Sergeant Al Campbell.
“Herb’s a great dog,” says Ili. “I’m really excited to be in this new role - it’s going to be good.”
Constable Sailasa Kerekere, who graduated with detector dog Hague, was thrilled with training which included an outing on Lady Liz with Wellington Maritime Unit staff. “It was a great morning and I’m glad Herb was OK on the water,” he says.
Acting Sergeant Niumaia Lawanicina, a handler with many years’ policing experience, graduated with his first narcotic detector dog, Frosty.
Also graduating was Senior Customs Officer Roko Volau, with Ike.
Sergeant Sione Punaivaha, from Tonga Police, assisted with the training.
'It made perfect sense to honour the Fijian graduates by celebrating with a traditional Fijian kava ceremony.'
Addressing the ceremony, Todd said: “To the Fijian guys – well done, you are now part of a very successful detector dog programme and I know there are high expectations to maintain that when you get back to Fiji, which I know you will do.”
He said over the five-year span of the MFAT-funded PDDP, seizures of narcotics, cash and firearms had been “nothing but outstanding in fighting transnational organised crime”.
The programme includes Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, and the Cook Islands. Work is under way in French Polynesia and New Caledonia is to be added soon.
The graduation means there are now 18 New Zealand-bred and trained detector dogs at work across the Pacific, with a further five teams being added next year, Todd said.