Bomb detection dogs are a common sight at Australia's airports and harbours. These obliging helpers play a crucial role in identifying possible threats, and in contrast to the seriousness of their work, seem to have an enjoyable time in carrying out their role. Their service is invaluable, and the bond that they form with their handlers can be extraordinary. While detection dogs and their handlers can be the unsung heroes of Australia's security measures, there have been a number of remarkable detection dogs (and not quite dogs) who have played a role in making the world a safer place.
Sarbi the War Hero
Perhaps the most famous explosives detection animal in Australia's history, Sarbi the labrador/newfoundland cross passed away in 2015 at the age of 12. She had led a truly remarkable life of service, having been trained to detect improvised explosive devices, a skill which was first put into operation when Sarbi was used to hunt for explosives at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. She was later sent to Afghanistan, where she served with the Australian Army. After a violent ambush in September 2008, Sarbi went missing. Her fate was unknown until November 2009 when an American soldier discovered her in the company of a local man. It was quickly determined that she was a trained military dog, and she was then repatriated to Australia, where she lived a life of retirement with her handler. Though Sarbi was a crossbreed, there are other detection dogs who are true hybrids.
The golden jackal population is on the rise across Europe, and if a pack was to ever find itself in the vicinity of Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport, they might sense the presence of a not-too-distant cousin. The Sulimov dog is the result of a crossbreeding scheme between the Finnish Lapponian herder breed, and the golden jackal (although other dog breeds have since been introduced into the line). The end result is a hybrid which can be assertive in seeking out explosives, although the breed is exclusively in use in Russia (with all the animals the property of Aeroflot, the Russian flag carrier). It's interesting that the jackal bloodline has been used in such a way, but there are explosive detecting animals who are not even closely related to the canine family.
Dogs are perhaps the best-known animal used for explosives detection, but they're not always the most suitable animal. Consider the African giant pouched rat, whose light tread and keen sense of smell have made them a useful tool in landmine detection. Where a dog might inadvertently trigger a landmine, the rat can harmlessly move throughout a patch of land with suspected unexploded bombs, alerting its handlers to the locations of any discovered devices. While it's unlikely that rats will replace dogs in most detection duties, it's interesting to note that dogs aren't the only contenders for this critical service.
There might not be any giant rats or jackal hybrids on official duty in Australia anytime soon, but like Sarbi, Australia's bomb detection dogs can be truly heroic.