Monday, October 13, 2008

Sniffer dogs and stereotypes

On my recent trip to South Africa, I was waiting at the carousel in the OR Tambo airport (Johannesburg) for my luggage to appear. It was one of those interminable waits. But it looked as if there might be some perks as a beautiful beagle picked its enthusiastic, bright-eyed way through the waiting travellers.

Most beagles, as you probably know, are white, black and brown. This one was sort of peach coloured with black and brown splodges. I kid you not. There is a maltese referred to as 'apricot' - this dog was that colour where I would have expected white.

I was enchanted and crouched down to talk to him, only to have his handler snap at me, "He is working!"

Whoops! Far be it from me to interfere with a drug sniffer dog on duty.

But the woman behind me (who seemed to be some sort of facilitator or tour operator collecting an English couple at the start of their African Adventure) explained that this was in fact a fruit sniffer dog, it being illegal to bring fruit, vegetables, seeds and such into South Africa from abroad.

She drew attention to the large bag of apples that the handler was carrying. Confiscated spoils it seems.

The English woman asked the question I wanted to ask, "But what about drugs?"

"Ah," explained the tour operator, "there is a different dog for that. You can see him over there working the flight that just came in from Sao Paolo. That's where the drugs will be. From England it's always fruit."

And sure enough, there he was - a far less friendly looking character, working his way through a different crowd of people at another carousel. I don't think I would have been quite as inclined to chat with him - he looked to be all business.

So it seems you could probably get away with taking drugs into South Africa from the UK... as long as you don't hide them inside the apples!

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