A team of specially trained dogs in the United Kingdom is helping the environment while helping utility companies save water. “It’s brilliant,” says Luke Jones, handler and codirector of CAPE SPC. Luke, along with Ross Stephenson, set up the company in 2016, after serving in the British Army as dog handlers in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Their business is one of few in the world training and using dogs to sniff out a massive problem: leaking underground water pipes. “We think of ourselves as pioneers in the area. We’ve developed a service, and the dogs are doing the job,” Luke says.
Across the world, there are millions of miles of below-ground pipes owned by utility companies that carry drinking water from treatment plants to homes and businesses. Sometimes pipes leak or break due to age, corrosion or the ground freezing. But since pipes are buried, it isn’t easy to trace exactly where the water is escaping.
Suppliers treat the water with chlorine to kill germs. The dogs are trained to “alert” when they smell the chemical, but it evaporates quickly, so the canines must be thorough and precise. “It’s probably one of the hardest jobs to train a dog for,” Luke says. “You’ve got to be working, training and monitoring them continuously, because the scent is constantly changing, but they do it very well.”
Water Conservation Canines
The company’s water-detection pack is made up of six dogs; two are rescues. “All our dogs have Spaniel in them. Whether they’re (mixed with) Labrador, Springer or Cocker Spaniel, we have no preference so long as a dog can meet our expectations. We find ourselves (favoring) Spaniels due to their drive and durability for the jobs we carry out,” Luke says.
The canines are making a difference conserving water, a precious resource. “I think a lot of the world doesn’t realize the scarcity of water in some places is frightening,” Luke says. “We need it to sustain life, and it’s not always going to be there. In some places, they’re praying for rain and rationing water during droughts.”
Dogs to the Rescue
In the military, both Luke and Ross trusted their lives to the dogs, and now they’re trusting them with their futures. The dogs have not let them down. “We’ve done what we set out to do. We achieved it. The dogs are now operational daily, and we constantly find leaks,” Luke says. “To be able to do something with an animal that helps the environment is the best job we could have.”