Wanted, playing dead or alive: the sniffer dog with a bounty on his head

Scamp the spaniel is so good at finding illegal tobacco, crime groups have offered a £25,000 reward for his capture

Name: Scamp.

Age: Seven.

Breed: English springer spaniel.

Occupation: Crime fighter.

Aren’t springer spaniels a bit soft to be fighting crime? Maybe the chasing and biting part, but they’re very good at sniffing. You see, Scamp is a detection dog, and one of the best in the business.

What does he detect? Drugs, explosives, human remains? I’m sure he could learn to detect those things, but Scamp’s speciality is sniffing out tobacco.

Don’t you just go into a shop? I mean, I know they cover it up these days, but still. Actually, he does go into shops, but it is stashes of illegal tobacco that he is looking for.

Of course. Spaniels are famously passionate about import duties. That’s not the only thing. Some smuggled cigarettes are counterfeit, bulked out with bits of rubbish including sawdust, dead insects and mouse droppings.

Might that be healthier than tobacco? I’m not sure. But they may not self-extinguish, which makes them more likely to cause fires.

Ah. So Scamp sniffs about and barks like crazy when he finds an authentic Marlboro? He’s not quite that good. But he can tell when there is tobacco hidden in a car or behind a wall or something. His handler, Stuart Phillips, reckons he has sniffed out about £6m-worth of illegal tobacco in the past five years.

Holy moly. “We had to stop working in one part of the country last year,” says Phillips, “because there was a £25,000 bounty put on his head. It was believed to be linked to an organised crime group and the relevant authorities were informed.”

So Scamp is a wanted … er … dog? That’s right. He’s like a modern-day Eliot Ness. If Eliot Ness ate with his face in a bowl and worked for trading standards.

They should make a movie about Scamp. Well, he has already starred in Dog Detectives on Quest TV, alongside his partner Yoyo.

Is Scamp the charming maverick, while Yoyo does things by the book? I’m not sure. In one episode, Yoyo misses a cache of cigarettes then redeems himself after a period of extra training.

Fantastic. And maybe Yoyo’s last partner was killed in a raid on a mislabelling gang? Then, after a rocky start, Scamp earns his grudging respect? That might be a bit of a stretch. “I don’t think they understand that they’re doing such a valuable, worthwhile job,” Phillips says. “It’s just a game to them. All they’re looking for is their toy.”

Do say: “This is just a game to you! Dammit, Scamp, people’s lives are at stake!”

Don’t say: “Let’s sniff ass!”

The GuardianTramp

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