Dogs in Holywell getting ready to sniff out trouble

Published date: 28 January 2014 |
Published by: Rhian Waller 
Read more articles by Rhian Waller  Email reporter


AT Wagtail International, set in rolling fields outside Holywell, working dogs are being put through their paces every day.

Many of them will leave North Wales and be dispatched around the world to sniff out trouble.

One canine duo trained in Flintshire have made it as far as Gabon in equatorial Africa, where they are playing a role in bringing down the underworld trade of elephant ivory and leopard skins.

Deeside man Collin Singer, Wagtail’s managing director, set up the company after working with the forces as a dog handler.

He said: “We came up with Wagtail as it was the call sign for dog units when I was serving in Ireland as an RAF police dog handler.

“We founded it 10 years ago and there’s a lot of demand for our dogs.

“We’re the only private UK Company that provides body detection dogs – that’s dogs that sniff out illegal immigrants hiding in an attempt to get into the country.

“Our dogs have worked with the police, the UK border force, HMRC and private clients – although mostly government agencies. They deal with explosives, cash, tobacco, live bodies, cadaver searches and animal parts brought in for ‘medicine’.”

When training the two smuggler-busting dogs to be sent out to Africa, Wagtail obtained samples of illegally traded animal parts.

Collin said: “Theoretically, our dogs can track down anything that has a scent. We were given some sample scents of elephant ivory and leopard skin. We part-trained the dogs here but for the fresh items, like bush meat – which sometimes includes monkeys and dwarf crocodiles – and pangolin – a kind of anteater whose striking scales are traded for vast sums – they had to use when they were in the country.

“We trained three dog handlers as well and they’re out there now, saving endangered animals.”

The more often poachers and traffickers are caught, the less likely they are to become involved in targeting rare animals, it is hoped.

Collin said: “The idea of using dogs to track down people trading in animal parts is relatively new. The project we’re running in Africa is a sort of blueprint. A lot of countries are looking at it.”

It’s not just animals the dogs are protecting, in a roundabout way.

Collin said: “We have also trained dogs to become involved with tobacco smuggling.”

Aside from the obvious problems associated with tax-dodging, there is a far more sinister side to illegal tobacco import.

Collin said: “People think they’re getting a bargain when they are offered £50 worth of shredded tobacco for £5. But it ends up being cut with all sorts of things. Tests have revealed illegal tobacco has contained everything from sawdust to asbestos.”

It is particularly fitting many of the dogs trained at the centre to rescue other animals – and sometimes people – were actually rescue dogs.

Collin said: “We’ve got good relationships with quite a few rescue centres. They know what we’re looking for – dogs who are very reward-driven and who can concentrate on a task, dogs who get on well with people and dogs who are confident.

“To them, it’s fun. If it wasn’t, they wouldn’t do it. The search methods simply convert their natural instincts to hunt into a game.”

While they might make their way to China, Africa or the busy airports and shipping ports of the UK, some of the dogs hail from closer to home – in fact some might have come from Wrexham and Flintshire.

Collin said: “We also take dogs from members of the public and occasionally from breeders. One of the most satisfying parts of the job is taking a dog nobody wants, or who just didn’t work out as a family pet, and training them up.

“Of course, it doesn’t always come easily. We’ll take on dogs who have been living in nice homes where they were told not to jump on the furniture and all of a sudden we are actively encouraging them to climb on top of things.”

There are about two dozen dogs currently training at Wagtail, but the  number fluctuates due to demand.

Among the past alumni were dogs used at the Olympics in Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012.

Collin said: “Obviously these are huge events and there were worries about terrorism. The dogs weren’t just employed during the Games themselves, but also in the construction of the arenas.

“Nowadays there are bombs you can plant and then set off five years later, so the dogs were there to help with those type of security concerns.”

Collin is keen to let dog owners know Wagtail is looking for new recruits. To find out more visit or call 01745 561166.

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