29 Nov 2019

Tui, Auckland's oldest pest-detection dog, retires

From Checkpoint, 5:50 pm on 29 November 2019

It is retirement day for "Mrs Consistent" after practically a lifetime with her nose to the grind stone.

Tui is a Foxy-Jack Russell Terrier cross who sniffs out rats and mice that threaten native wildlife on islands in the Hauraki Gulf and beyond.

She's been in the job 12 years; a long career in K9 time. Seven of them have been with Auckland Council as its first pest detection dog.

Tui's sidekick Brian Shields trained her from a pup and has worked with her until Friday, when she clocked off duty for the final time. 

"The sad thing was she's always been a really obedient dog and she's just pretty rapidly gone deaf on us," Mr Shields told Checkpoint's Lisa Owen.

"We're not going out on the field as much, which she likes. She's still physically fit to do that, but not being able to hear… on an island when you're working with endangered animals you need the dog to hear you."

He said Tui is "Mrs Consistent".

"I've worked with this dog for 13 years every day, she's always had my back at work.

"We work amongst some of the most endangered animals in the world, we did a big trip to the Antipodes recently, working amongst all those animals she's never seen before and to just… do her job amongst that is pretty incredible."

The pair have had quite a career together.

"We've been to pest-free islands, we were part of the Rangitoto-Motutapu eradication, just the places we've gone, it's been pretty incredible.

"Not to have her, and then bring Pipi along to get her up to standard it just showed me how long it takes to get a conservation dog that's well-balanced, it's not done overnight, it takes time, and Tui is the whole package."

Mr Shields will miss Tui out in the field, but he said he's happy to have her retiring at his home.

"Everyone [asked] 'what are you going to do with Tui?' and I thought we'll pass her on and she can live a good life somewhere on a farm, but at the end of the day she knows me, she's gone deaf and she's comfortable, she's got a lazy boy at home, she can come through the cat door.

"She's just comfortable and I think that's the right thing to do with her. She's not a problem so yeah I'm going to keep her for sure."

He said what makes breeds like Tui so good at hunting pests is being well-balanced.

"If I take the springer to a barbecue at your place. I take a Springer, or a lab, it'll sit under the barbecue and look for food.

"But a terrier will go all around the yard and explore, and that's what you enhance, that exploring and looking."

"For her it's about watching her, she's got to smell other stuff to know what's there, and you've got to read that. If there's a rat there, the whole mood changes."

Mr Shields knew Tui was something special on their first job.

"We came down and there was a big villa on this private pest-free island, and Tui come down and I noticed a big tom-cat on the deck.

"I saw Tui walk along the deck and I thought oh no there's a cat, I'm not sure what's going to happen there.

"And Tui walks straight past this big tom-cat, and the guy in the chair goes 'that's one well-balanced dog'.

"And then I knew, good on ya Tui. And we've never looked back from that moment really. I've trusted her ever since, not to go near non-target stuff. She's very target-specific."

Tui's other human workmates made her a cake and had a retirement party for her.

"The work colleagues have made a really good fuss of her," Mr Shields said.

"She comes into the office, dogs are allowed into our office in town here and they bring so much to our staff.

"If you can get up and pat a dog, I think every office should have a dog or a cat.

"Maybe not a cat."

But Tui still has work to do in retirement.

"If you take her to the park she just keeps going, she's got no recall, so that could be quite dangerous for her, not coming back," Mr Shields said.

"So I've be working with her around trying to catch her eye and tapping for her to come. So I'm sort of retraining her with a little bit of sign language, if you'd like to call it that.

"She's still really active, you can see she's in very good shape for her age, she's 70-odd I think in human terms.

"That's probably the sad thing, she's so good, and she's still got a lot to give but that deafness has just done it."