A team of former police dogs have got new jobs – helping gas engineers find tiny cracks in gas pipes.
Nelly, Midge and Milly used to spend their days helping police sniff out drugs and explosives.
Now they have been helping gas network Cadent fix issues with underground gas pipes.
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Cadent says the issue isn’t to do with gas leaking out, but water getting in, as even a tiny amount can cause them to become blocked.
The pipes can run for long distances underneath footpaths and verges, gardens and driveways so it can be 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.
They spent time in Stockport, Oldham and Middleton, looking for previously elusive points through which water was getting into the pipes.
The clever canines amazed even the most experienced engineers by tracking down small hairline fractures.
David Leah, a repair team leader for Cadent in Manchester and Stockport, 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.”
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.
“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, whose dogs have worked on more than 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.”