A small Labrador with a great nose and a royal reputation is New Zealand's top detector dog after winning the 2023 Detector Dog Nationals.
Five-year-old Ripper and her human partner Senior Constable Patrick Derbyshire, from Kerikeri, Northland, won the Alan Symes Cup for Narcotic Detector Dogs, building on their second-place finish in 2022.
The 2023 Nationals were a smaller affair than usual as the patrol dog competition was cancelled after ferocious weather meant many teams could not travel to compete.
But the show went on with detector dog teams from Police, Aviation Security (AVSEC), Corrections, Customs and Defence. (You can see all the dogs, below)
Inspector Todd Southall, National Coordinator Police Dogs, said while it was a shame for those teams who had earned a place but couldn’t attend, “it doesn’t take away from the importance and significance of the event that we have here today”.
Two teams each from Police, Corrections and Customs competed in the Narcotic Detector Dog competition.
Patrick says he still can’t quite believe he and Ripper won. “Everyone was saying we would win after coming second last year, but I’m not someone who takes things for granted,” he says.
“It was still a surprise when I heard our names read out. I really wasn’t expecting it.”
Ripper is Patrick’s first dog. They have been together for less than two years – Patrick, who has served 28 years in Police, had a long-held wish to join Dog Section but carved out a career elsewhere first, including 13 years in CIB.
He gives all the credit to Ripper. “I’m just the driver. Most handlers would say it’s 80-90 percent the dog and the rest is the human.”
He says Ripper is known as a little princess, with a princess-like tendency to sulk if told off, which requires diplomatic skills as well as the more usual ones.
“I’ve learnt that the hard way, but she’s a very nice dog - very loving, very easy to work with. She loves children so we do a lot of visits to pre-schools.”
Patrick and Ripper at work in district.
In second place was Senior Customs Officer Clare Kirk, from Auckland, with Kale, who Clare calls the “George Clooney of Customs, handsome, mature and a little grey”.
Also competing were Senior Constable Lauris Shepherd and Arc, from Auckland, and Corrections teams Hannah McEwan with Willis, and John Penney with Baz.
The AVSEC Shield for Explosive Detector Dogs was won by Aviation Security Officer Sarah McHardy, from Christchurch, with Mindy - a mixed-breed SPCA special.
“She’s very relaxed at home, but when she’s got the harness on, she knows it’s time to work,” says Clare.
In second place was Sapper Ian Hunt, from New Zealand Army’s 2 Field Squadron, with Flicka. “It was a pleasure to take part in the Nationals and I’m honoured to be placed,” says Ian.
They were up against two experienced Police dog teams - Senior Constable Reuben Whalley and Wolfe from Christchurch and Senior Constable Hamish Todd and E-Zak from Wellington, who have both excelled at many National competitions.
Senior Constable Lauris Shepherd and Arc with Superintendent Warwick Morehu, before Arc tries to help Lauris carry their certifcate back to their position on parade.
On behalf of Commissioner Andrew Coster, Superintendent Warwick Morehu, Director Training, acknowledged the disappointment of the teams who qualified but could not take part. To those present he said: “Making it to the nationals is no small feat.
"Your selection is a testament to your hard work, dedication and commitment and you should all be very proud of making it here today, representing your respective agencies.”
He praised their mahi in protecting New Zealand. “You tackle critical and challenging tasks… Your collective efforts are making a positive and enduring difference in all our communities and for that we say thank you.”
He said the competition underlined the importance of inter-agency cooperation. “We’re all in this together, working hand in hand to strengthen the capability of dog teams across agencies to keep everyone in New Zealand safe.”
From left: Arc, Baz, Ezak, Flicka, Kale (the George Clooney of Customs)...
... and Mindy, Ripper, Thor, Willis, and Wolfe.
Narcotic Detector Dogs - Alan Symes Cup
1 Senior Constable Patrick Derbyshire with Ripper, from Northland
2 Senior Customs Officer Clare Kirk with Kale, from Auckland
3 Customs Officer Hannah Bailey with Thor, from Christchurch
Explosive Detector Dogs - AVSEC Shield
1 Aviation Security Officer Sarah McHardy with Mindy, from Christchurch
2 Sapper Ian Hunt with Flicka from New Zealand Army 2Fd Sqn (Trentham)
3 Senior Constable Reuben Whalley with Wolfe, from Christchurch