20 Sep 2020

First Person: I got accused of being a drug mule since 'the dog is never wrong'

11:27 am on 20 September 2020

By Caitlin Cherry*

First Person - I obey the speed limit, always indicate, pick up fallen bicycles and if I get undercharged at a shop I let them know, but I still got accused of being a drug mule.

Caitlin Cherry biking with her niece Sophie in Vancouver.

Caitlin Cherry (left) with her niece Sophie in Vancouver. Photo: Caitlin Cherry

Once when I was taking my niece to visit family in Melbourne a beagle jumped on my cabin bag, giving me a heck of a fright. It turned out the beagle could just smell fruit residue (of course I wasn't carrying any) so I now wash out all my bags before I travel, just in case.

About five years ago I went with a friend to Europe for three weeks. My return flight home from London had a stopover in Vancouver, so I stayed for two nights to visit another niece who lived there. We had a great couple of days eating too many pancakes with maple syrup and watching the tattooed hipsters with man-buns talk about going to craft beer festivals. Then I hopped on my 14-hour Air NZ Flight to Auckland.

My seat was right at the back, middle row next to two large motor-cross riders who kept laughing at me as mishaps occurred. My screen kept stopping and having to be re-set by the impatient flight attendant, who ended up gesticulating so much he hit my face, scratching across my cheek with his fingernail.

As we neared Auckland around 5am I downed a couple of weak instant coffees before alighting the plane to get my luggage. By that point the coffee was doing its work and I needed to use the bathroom. I got my suitcase off the conveyer belt, went to the toilet, then headed towards the queue for customs.

A cute black dog rushed up to me, sniffed my bottom and then sat down beside me. I went to pat it then realised, oh no, you don't do that, then oh shit, then oh wait it will be a fruit dog, we've done this before! But it sniffed my bum?

The grim-faced customs officer stood a foot from me "Do you know why the dog sniffed you?"

I leaned forward and whispered "Is it because I just did a poo? I did eat some fruit recently."

The man gave me a cold stare, "This is not a fruit dog, this is a drug dog."

The world went wonky. The two motor-cross guys walked past, chuckling to themselves.

ME: But I haven't taken any drugs!

MAN: Then you're concealing drugs.

ME: What? I don't even take drugs. (I am physically shaking at this point and almost in tears.)

MAN: Well my dog has smelled drugs, so either you've taken them or you are concealing them.

ME (desperately trying to make sense of this): Well… I've come from Vancouver where cannabis is legal, could I have sat on something on the train to the airport??

MAN: No.

ME: But it has to be something because I haven't had any drugs and I would never carry them!

MAN: You've either taken drugs or you are concealing them.

ME: This makes no sense, this makes no sense.

MAN: Look, I don't care if you've taken drugs ok, I only care if you are concealing drugs, are you concealing drugs?


ME: So you've taken drugs?

ME: (confused) Do you want me to say that I've taken drugs??

MAN: Only if it's true.

ME: It's not, I don't even like drugs, I'm too highly strung! I can only handle one coffee a day.

MAN: Well you've either taken drugs or you are concealing drugs.

ME: Your dog must be wrong!

MAN: The dog is never wrong.

ME: (realising I am in a vortex) But I haven't done anything.

MAN: The dog is never wrong.

I thought back - the dog hadn't sniffed my suitcase, so no one had planted drugs in it, it sniffed my bum, and there was no way anyone had planted drugs in my bum without me knowing, therefore I could be proven innocent! I wasn't going to be the new Schapelle Corby!

ME: Look, I don't want to miss my flight to Wellington, I haven't seen my kids for three weeks. If you are going to search me then can we just get it over with! (I am picturing the snap of the latex gloves.)

MAN: (looks confused)

ME: Can we get this search done, coz I don't have much time.

MAN: Oh just go.

ME: What?

MAN: (sighs) Just go!!

I scurry off to the long customs queue - everyone from the plane is staring at me, the drug mule.

The motor-cross riders roar with laughter and let me in front of them in the line.

Naturally I was gripped with fear every time I went overseas from then on - to the point of photographing the contents of my suitcase at the airport before checking in. But I've never been stopped since.

I will never know why that dog sniffed me. Had someone tipped some drugs into the toilet before I used it? Had some hipster café in Vancouver put cannabis in my kale salad without my knowledge? Who knows?

*Caitlin Cherry is the director of content at RNZ National