Police dogs Zac and Marlowe get sniffy at Wimbledon

LONDON Wed Jun 26, 2013 11:03am EDT

A security guard stands at the top of a flight of steps on court three at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships, in London June 25, 2013. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

A security guard stands at the top of a flight of steps on court three at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships, in London June 25, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Stefan Wermuth

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LONDON (Reuters) - Marlowe learnt his trade sniffing out tennis balls so he feels right at home prowling around the Wimbledon courts.

Zac is equally passionate about his job but the problem is people who keep trying to pet him when he is working.

For both are black Labradors out on dawn patrol every morning at the world's most famous tennis tournament in an eight-dog unit from the police explosives search team.

They work together everywhere from London airports to last year's Olympics and patrol Wimbledon for six hours every morning until an influx of about 40,000 people to the grounds in south London.

The London Olympics was Marlowe's first job and his handler, Constable Paul Osborne, said he passed with flying colors.

"He was very good," Osborne said proudly as Marlowe wagged his tail furiously at yet another passing admirer outside Wimbledon's hallowed Center Court.

The strong relationship between the two is obvious and started with Marlowe undergoing a reward-based training program that was perfect for a Wimbledon sniffer.

"When they are puppies they learn to find tennis balls and look for tennis balls," Osborne said, adding that this could lead to some riotous searches at Wimbledon.

"If someone has got a big bag of tennis balls, the dog can be all over the bag."

Standing beside him is Zac and his handler Richard Forshaw-Singh who has no doubt dogs are easier to handle than people.

"Oh God, yes. I spend more time with him than I do with my wife," he said of the black Labrador who lives with him and his family, helping to build a strong bond.

"Sometimes you get frustrated with people who go up to the dog while he is in the middle of searching and try to pat him."

Also on hand at Wimbledon is a two-strong team of dogs trained to look for firearms.

For security reasons, both police officers were tight-lipped about the triumphs their charges have achieved in the field.

A spokesman for Scotland Yard confirmed there had been no major incidents at Wimbledon in 2013.

The dogs are not alone on dawn patrol at the early morning "Wimbledon zoo".

As the dogs sniff out the stands, up in the skies roams Rufus the Harrier Hawk whose job is to scare off pigeons who might be tempted to leave unwanted souvenirs on the Center Court for tennis players in their pristine white outfits.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

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