Gull-free dining thanks to patrol dogs at Sydney Opera House

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SYDNEY, Feb 17 (Reuters) - For many, a table at Sydney's Opera Bar overlooking the blue water of its world-famous harbour is prime real estate during the summer.

But seagulls swooping in to pick at meals forced the bar's administrators to enlist trained dogs to ensure patrons enjoy themselves at the venue trying to recover after COVID lockdowns and restrictions.

Sammy McPherson, general manager of the Opera Kitchen adjoining the bar, said they have noticed an 80-85% reduction in the aerial attacks since the dog patrols were first trialled in 2018.

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"It's been a gamechanger, you could say, in hospitality," McPherson told Reuters. "We're not having to chase after birds and the amount of food replacement, broken glasses, broken plates. It's been absolutely amazing."

The dogs and their handlers patrol the promenade in front of the waterfront establishments and chase away seagulls. The company that provides the service has 12 to 13 canines on rotation, rostered on every day with double shifts on the weekends.

Dog handler Carla Shoobert said they use dogs naturally inclined to pursue the gulls, such as Australian kelpies and border collies.

"People look at you in confusion for the first hour of your shift, trying to figure out what you're doing," she said.

"Then you'll go on your five-minute break ... and you come back and then they're like, 'Oh, that's what she's doing' because the birds come back. Then they generally pull you aside and they're like, 'This is amazing'."

Despite the presence of other birds like pigeons, the dogs only focus on seagulls. And with the gulls in full retreat, the Sydney Opera House has signed up the canines to carry out their duty for the foreseeable future.

Diners said the dogs gave the venues a more pleasant atmosphere.

"We don't need to be covering our food constantly and we don't need to be shooing away seagulls or stomping, and you can actually enjoy your time here at the Opera Bar," Sydney resident Banita Sarkhosh said.

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Reporting by James Redmayne; Editing by Karishma Singh

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