Sniffer dogs help nose out Lancashire's gas leaks in a brand new job swap

Detective dogs have swapped nosing out drugs and explosives for sniffing for gas in a pioneering job swap.

The former police pooches are being employed to search out tiny cracks in gas pipes at sites across Lancashire.

Former police explosives and drugs dogs Nelly, Midge and Milly are now at work for the region’s gas network Cadent.

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The issue is not about gas getting out of the pipes, but water getting in. Just half an egg cup of water is enough to block a customer’s service pipe – the narrow pipe (the width of a finger) which carries gas at the lowest pressure from the big main in the road into a property.

Former police sniffer dogs Midge and Nelly with their handler Steve Foster. The dogs are being used to sniff out problems with Lancashire's gas network

These pipes might run for long distances underneath footpaths and verges, gardens and driveways. It is hugely disruptive if engineers need to dig it all up to otherwise find the source.

Cadent heard about former police dog sergeant instructor Steve Foster and his specially-trained English Springer Spaniels, and brought them to the North West for the first time this month.

The clever canines amazed even the most experienced engineers by tracking down small hairline fractures in the underground gas pipes.

David Leah, a repair team leader for Cadent, who’s worked for 41 years in the industry, said: “When we dug down to where the dogs detected something, it was spot on – or, a foot away at most. It was unbelievable. The dogs are going to be a great asset for us.”

Sniffer dogs Midge and Nelly

Rachel Endfield, Business Improvement Specialist in Cadent’s North West network, whose idea it was to bring the dogs to the North West, said: “When water is getting into a customer’s gas supply, it can be extremely difficult to locate the source of the ingress. Sometimes it can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Water will get in through the tiniest of cracks, which can cause problems for our customers. It can stop gas getting through and they could lose supply.

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“We’re determined to find innovative ways to tackle this and prevent our customers from losing supply. I’d heard about the gas detection dogs that Steve has trained for exactly this job. We’ve had them in the North West network for two days now, the first time we’ve used them, and we’ve seen some fantastic results already.”

Steve Foster, whose dogs have worked on over 200 jobs since switching to gas detection work in 2017, said: “Some escapes can be really, really difficult to find. The dogs’ noses are thought to be anywhere between 10,000 and 100,000 times better than a human’s nose. So, they can find minute amounts of gas. That can be all you need, the golden nugget the engineers need to start with.”

The sniffer dogs are due back for another two days in the North West later this summer, when they will be working in Garstang, Thornton Cleveleys, Lytham St Annes, Nelson and Colne.

Midge, Nelly and Steve are on the case