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Meet Zoe, the Labrador cross helping rid Orkney of drugs

Zoe the Labrador Cross
Zoe the Labrador Cross

Few people can take their pet to work with them, but Kevin Moar does exactly that.

His dog Zoe is never far from his side, and she is particularly popular when Kevin visits youngsters in school.

Though she may look cute with her quizzical expression and warm brown eyes, the Labrador cross has a serious job to do.

She is Orkney’s very first drugs detection dog, and Kevin is her handler.

While Zoe gets plenty of walks off duty, there will be no lounging about under the desk or fetching sticks during office hours.

Kevin is keen to emphasise his furry companion is first and foremost a working dog, responsible for tackling drug detection operations and delivering education programmes.

Dog Handler Kevin Moar with Zoe

It is difficult to believe that drugs are a problem on the idyllic island, which is routinely named as one of the best places to bring up children.

The issue has grown in the past decade, with a shift from soft to hard drugs.

A major haul of Class A and B drugs two years ago contributed towards calls for a drugs dog to be appointed.

The Orkney Drugs Dog charity started a major fundraising initiative, and Zoe and Kevin commenced work in May.

The team received guidance from a similar sniffer dog patrol initiative, which has been operating in Shetland since 2001.

Zoe and Kevin recently patrolled the popular Belladrum festival in Inverness, and worked with Police Scotland.

They also assist Border Force when in Orkney for international arrivals by air, yacht and cruise.

It may sound intense, but it has been a homecoming for Kevin, who originally left Orkney for a career in the RAF.

“I liked dogs when I was a child, and then I started my career as a dog handler with the air force,” said Kevin.

“So when this position became available, it was pretty exciting.

“The problem with drugs has changed drastically from when I grew up on Orkney.

“There’s always a way for drugs to get in here, and there is also a very serious issue in Shetland.

“It’s part of mine and Zoe’s role to intercept drugs before they filter out.”

Zoe is often on patrol as passengers disembark the ferry in both Kirkwall and Stromness, and she stands watch until she picks up a scent. Kevin believes that, occasionally, people draw attention to themselves by behaving suspiciously.

“They see Zoe and they start acting differently if they have something they shouldn’t,” said Kevin.

Dog Handler Kevin Moar with Zoe

“When she picks up a scent and a person tries to leave, Zoe will block their way.

“Or she will stand at their side and look directly at the source, say a substance was in a person’s pocket for example.”

Zoe has repeatedly proven her credentials and even sniffed out a hefty haul in her first week at work.

She is also a regular sight at the Royal Mail, in a bid to intercept substances sent by post.

But just as important as the physical recovery of drugs is the work which Kevin and Zoe do to try to deter people from taking them in the first place.

“I would say the education programme is just as valuable,” said Kevin.

“I don’t think you can sit in front of a class of kids and simply say don’t do drugs, drugs are bad.

“That approach isn’t particularly effective.

“We want to educate youngsters to make informed choices.

“That’s by telling them the impact which drugs can have, and the repercussions in later life.”

Zoe is, of course, a hit with pupils, and is rewarded for her patience with plenty of belly scratches.

Unlike Kevin, she is a long way from home.

“Zoe came from Vikkas K9 Ltd in Lincoln, which provides specialised canine training and counter-terrorist services,” said Kevin.

“She’s not pure Lab, there is definitely a mix going on.

“I think there’s a bit of lurcher and maybe some collie in there as well.”

Although Zoe is always keen for a tummy tickle, how does she not get distracted when out on patrol?

As her handler, Kevin is careful to tread a fine line between working dog and family pet.

“Zoe does come into the house now and then, but never for long” said Kevin.

“She has her own kennel because she is a working dog.

“She doesn’t get up on the sofa at home.

“We don’t want Zoe to be searching a house and decide to have a quick lie down on the sofa, or lead us to the wrong place entirely.

“I obviously have a very strong bond with her as her handler, but we first and foremost have a job to do.”