Railways' canine squad to get more teeth

MUMBAI: The canine squad of the Railways is all set for an expansion. While Western Railway's (WR) Railway Protection Force (RPF) will go
shopping for more puppies on Thursday, the RPF of Central Railway (CR) will get 17 dogs in the next three months as part of the Integrated Security Plan (ISP).

WR officials said they are looking for three pups, either German Shepherds or Labradors, who will be engaged only for detection of explosives after being put through an elaborate training programme.

The CR, which already has a 50-strong sniffer squad, plans to deploy a majority of its new acquisitions at CST and Dadar station. Keen on ensuring that its dogs have a comfortable stay, the CR is also planning to add new kennels.

In the wake of terror threats, sniffer dogs have been pressed into service too often, which tires them out. Apart from sniffing out explosives, they also have other duties like tracking in crime detection and searching station premises. Now, with a slew of bomb scares, there is an added pressure on the four-legged experts as they are limited in number.

"At present, there are 17 dogs between Churchgate and Surat stations on the WR. Of these, 12 have been hired from private security agencies. The CR has 50 dogs between CST and Igatpuri as well as CST and Lonavla stations; 10 of these are still being trained and 7 are pups that were bought last month,'' an official said.

The animals are housed in kennels at Matunga and Kalyan on the Central Line and Mahalaxmi on the Western Line. But during peak hours, it becomes difficult to move them from one station to another inside trains. The need for more dogs in the squad was pressing.

"The new pups will be sent for training only when they are six months old. The training programmes are conducted at centres in Delhi, Coimbatore, Gwalior etc. When they will be brought back to Mumbai, special cages will be readied for them,'' a Railways official said. "We have to be extra careful with pups as they are prone to infections. They have to be fed four times a day. For the first six months, they have to be given a booster dose and later an anti-rabies shot annually.''

The puppies are not put to work immediately, they are first made to observe older dogs at work. An adult dog works at least 6 hours a day for 10 years with the Railways. Recently, sniffer dogs helped crack a train sabotage case in Bhusaval division by picking up the scent on a saree which was used to tie the main rail. This had caused the train to derail. The scent was traced to a house in a nearby village from where the saree had been stolen by a gang of repeat offenders. They were later caught by the local police. In another case at Kalwa, dogs helped catch a train robber by following his scent to a nearby slum, where he was hiding.

"There are hand-held electronic detectors, in vapour and particle mode, available between Rs 15-20 lakh a piece which can identify a scent, but their manufacturers admit that sniffer dogs are far superior to the gadgets,'' RPF Inspector General BS Sidhu said.

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