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These trained dogs at the Sydney Opera House precinct rescue tourists from the Australian city’s worst food thieves


It’s a beautiful Sydney evening. The sun is slowly descending into the Pacific Ocean while the sea breeze is in a rush to sweep over the Opera House.

At the Australian landmark’s Opera Bar, a tired-looking man is dodging tourists as he looks for a vacant, ocean-facing table. He smiles when he spots one and settles in with his hot chips and cola. Rip, the packet is torn open and in flies one, two, three… 10 noisy seagulls, each bird boldly strutting closer to the man and his food.

Enter Bruno, his tail wagging, ears flapping, eyes fixed on the gulls.

“Go,” calls his handler, Alina Dagen. The Border Collie makes a beeline for the birds, chasing them away as the man begins to eat his chips in peace. Onlookers clap and the victorious pooch marches off, eager to frighten away more pests.

Alina Dagen with her dog, Bruno. Photo: Riddhi Doshi

The Sydney Opera House precinct’s canine seagull patrol has become an attraction in itself for the thousands of people who visit the area to see the sights – including the Harbour Bridge – or just enjoy a meal and a beer.

Twelve Kelpies and Border Collies, both working breeds, have been selected and trained for just one task: to chase away seagulls.

“And, of course, they are friendly with people,” says James Webb, of Mad Dogs & Englishmen, the company behind the programme, which began in 2019.

Seagulls swoop by a woman dining in the outdoor seating area of the Opera Bar at the Sydney Opera House. Photo: Getty Images

Like many coastal places thronged with snacking tourists the world over, the Sydney Opera House precinct has long been plagued by seagulls. If left to their own devices, the birds steal guests’ food, resulting in heavy losses for the restaurants and bars in terms of meal refunds.

Businesses in the area tried using kites that resembled owls, sonic devices and a giant robotic hawk that flapped its wings and turned its head to deter the birds. But none proved to be very effective.

“With the dogs, though, the results were immediate and incredibly positive, with the seagulls keeping their distance and an 80 per cent reduction in meal refunds,” says Jade McKellar, chief customer officer at the Opera House, which pays for the seagull patrol.

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They may be the birds’ worst enemy, but the dogs are proving a hit with the humans who swoop into the area, and have been the stars of many a selfie.

“Tourists’ first reaction on seeing the dog is surprise,” Dagen says. “When they realise what they are doing, they are impressed and often seek permission to pet them or take their pictures.”

John Stack is assistant manager of the Opera Bar. “Our guests absolutely love seeing these gorgeous dogs doing what they love to do,” he says.

Newest patrol member Lilibet. Photo: Instagram / @maddogsseagullpatrol

Christebelle Mascarenhas, a 24-year-old Indian student studying in Sydney, sometimes comes to the precinct in the evening just to see the dogs. “It’s almost therapeutic to meet with these babies.”

Not all dogs are cut out for seagull patrol. Webb trialled the programme with his own pet, Muffin, a natural at chasing birds. But he soon realised that other dogs were distracted by food or loved the attention of people more than the job.

“We choose dogs that love chasing seagulls,” Webb says. “That’s 90 per cent job done. The rest is training them to follow our command.”

Canine seagull patrol member Betty. Photo: Instagram / @maddogsseagullpatrol

Most dogs on the squad belong to the handlers but some are put forward by their owners in return for having them trained and exercised. Each is on patrol for four hours, once a week – and has their work cut out for them.

Seagulls are clever, and are constantly learning new tricks. Webb’s team has noticed that prams are their favourite target: babies regularly drop food, which becomes an easy meal for vigilant gulls.

The seagull patrol likes to believe their animals are equally vigilant.

Article was originally published from here

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