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Air Dogs home after Balkans campaign

Airdogs Keane & Charlie

TWO TOP RAF Police Arms and Explosive search dogs, Air Dogs Keane and Charlie, are due to return to the UK after spending the last two years in Banja Luka, Bosnia, as vital assets for a multi-national peacekeeping force.

The two ‘crime busters’ have been helping to rid the country of illegal firearms and explosives left behind from the war in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s.

Both dogs arrived in Bosnia in 2004 after initial training at the Defence Animal Centre at Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire, where they were given a second chance after both were donated to the military by their former owners.

"Using dogs enables search teams to cover greater areas more quickly with less intrusion on the locals. We have been employing ‘sniffer’ dogs for many years to great effect," explained Air Dog Charlie’s handler, Corporal Dave Skeels, from Banja Luka.

But there is always a shortage of dogs who can work with the military, he added. "We do not have a breeding programme as such and we obtain many of our animals from animal shelters, and from people who can no longer cope with them as pets.

"However many of the dogs find the training a bit of a challenge and the failure rate is fairly high. But for those which qualify it gives them a whole new lease of life."

As the peacekeeping operation in Bosnia begins to slow down, the two canine comrades will return to the UK for some much needed rest and recuperation, before being redeployed on other operations in due course.

"The repatriation of these two dogs is being made exceptionally easy by taking full advantage of the PETS travel scheme, which is used for all RAF Police Search Dogs," said Cpl Skeels. "It eases international travel for pets by smoothing quarantine and other bureaucratic requirements."

"This is another fine example of how dogs serve usefully with the military on operations worldwide; and to think that just two years ago, both of these dogs could have ended up in dog shelters!" he added.

Cpl Skeels is also due to return soon to his UK base, RAF Cranwell, in Lincolnshire, for a spot of leave after four months’ duty in Bosnia. Then he departs on his next tour of duty, to Gibraltar.