Snowy, the Landmine Killer Dog
One day in 1996, a young, strayed fox terrier puppy, arrived at a place in Buffelsdrift in Pretoria. He was lost, hungry, tired and had no place to go. What this puppy did not know, was that this place was Mechem, a company known for finding and destroying landmines by training sniffer dogs to sniff out landmines. Snowy, the fox terrier, walked into these gates, unaware of the illustrious life awaiting him.
Initially they did not know what to do with this young dog, until somebody decided to test him to see if he is trainable. Snowy first went through a socialising programme in which he easily succeeded. Then Snowy was tested for training, which he passed with flying colours. One of the methods is to train the dog to play with a ball. The game develops further, where the ball is hidden so that the dog should seek and find. When found, the ball is cut in two and the smaller part is hidden. Each time when the part of the ball is found by the dog, it is halved until only a small piece of the ball is left. When that is also found, it is a breakthrough in the training of the dog.
Snowy was able to complete the intended three-month training in six weeks and showed an above average ability in this territory, which was never matched again. Snowy was trained to use his nose to sniff out landmines. He was the only fox terrier that was trained by Mechem and successfully deployed. Snowy had sniffed out more landmines than any other dog and became a legend in his lifetime.
In 2000, Snowy went to Croatia on contract as a landmine sniffer dog. Snowy built a reputation of being an above average landmine finder. When the contract expired Snowy stayed because he was such a charming dog that the Croatians fell in love with him and asked if he could stay. He was left behind as a gift. Mechem had several contracts in Croatia and had a house that was the centre from where they operated. When the group again visited Croatia, Snowy was found in the chicken run and not used as a sniffer dog. It was sad to find Snowy, an excellent sniffer dog, held in a chicken run. Allister took Snowy under his wing and for the duration of the group’s visit in Croatia, Snowy stayed with them in the house. He was allowed to sleep in on the bed, drive out with them and was spoilt rotten. His working skills as sniffer dog were refreshed by a refresher course and his owner was requested to use him in that capacity. When their obligations were fulfilled, the group returned to South Africa leaving Snowy, with heavy hearts.
In 2003, the group again went to Croatia and stayed in the same house. It was disappointing to, again, find Snowy in the chicken run. It was winter, it snowed and Snowy was cold in the chicken run while his owner was nice and warm in his house. Allister was dismayed and took Snowy in to stay with them in the house. Snowy was coddled and spoilt and he followed them everywhere. After completion of their mission, the group returned to South Africa. This time Snowy was part of the group flying back to South Africa.
Back in South Africa in 2004, Snowy received further training. He was used at Maleoskop, an abandoned police training facility, to sniff out explosives. It was a training facility for policemen designated for border service, and items such as hidden hand grenades and other explosives must be found and destroyed. Snowy once again showed his brilliance in this regard.
Snowy also had a social life while being a working dog. He gained the reputation as the dog-on-heat indicator. When a dog was on heat, Snowy would sit in front of the gate of the specific kennel, staring. It did not matter if it was freezing cold or swelteringly hot, he sat staring at the dog without adhering to any basic need like food or water. He started a relationship with a beautiful Jack Russell female, which resulted in the birth of six Jack Russel puppies. The puppies were sold privately.
In 2005, Snowy was deployed in Sudan, where he stayed in a United Nations camp for four years, sniffing out landmines and other explosives. There he got the reputation as Snowy, the Landmine Killer. He found hundreds of landmines. He could detect the landmines on a depth of 10 cm. He, as part of a group of dogs, could cover 2 500 m2 per day irrespective of his short legs. In Sudan, he also got the reputation as a brave, fearless daredevil who did not fear any ill-bred dog or landmine. During that time, Allister and the team regularly visited the camp. On those occasions, Snowy and Allister were inseparable. Snowy refused to work because he followed Allister like a shadow.
Snowy was operative in Sudan for several years. He stole the hearts of all the people he encountered. Like any other dog, he loved to play, especially with a ball. He frequently played fetch with the Sudan soldiers in the Nile River. His fearless temperament caused him to get involved in a fight with a Sudan stray dog, twice his size. He survived miraculously but not without losing some of his manhood in the fight.
Snowy became older and started to lose his ability to be the top landmine sniffer dog. Sudan is a hot, dry country with difficult working environment for human and dog alike. Snowy was a short-legged dog and the reflecting heat from the ground was exhausting. Snowy lost his ability to cover the expected square metres per day. The decision was made to retire Snowy as landmine sniffer dog. Snowy was such an adorable dog and on request, he stayed in Sudan as a pet dog.
In 2006, Allister visited Sudan and Snowy was overjoyed to see his much-loved master. The two of them had this special connection from day one and they were inseparable. Although Snowy was well cared for after his retirement as landmine sniffer dog in Sudan, Allister decided to bring Snowy back to South Africa.
In 2006, Snowy was back in South Africa and stayed in Pretoria at Mechem with Allister as his guardian. Snowy’s second home was Allister’s office. Allister took Snowy under his wing and Snowy followed him like a shadow. Snowy enjoyed riding with Allister on his motorbike and the two of them on the motorbike were a familiar sight.
Throughout his life, Snowy was a hard worker and for the major part of his life he did not know anything else but work. For him not to work was punishment. With this as background and his diminished ability, he was appointed to do light duty sniffer work at the airport. However, with time passing, the hair around his mouth became white and his short legs could not keep up with his famous nose. With old age, Snowy also encountered problems with his spine.
Snowy was known for his legendary capabilities as landmine sniffer dog during his deployment in Croatia, Sudan and South Africa and contributed to the prevention of many deaths and disfigurement caused by landmines. Snowy the Landmine Killer dog, South Africa’s famous fox terrier, was much loved and highly respected by all who crossed his path. He had the courage and determination to rise above his disability as young lost puppy without a home and became one of the most famous dogs in the history of the dog successes in South Africa. His famous nose never let him down.
With retirement, however, he was offered the prestigious position as Head Guard Dog at the Mechem dog school. He loved to act as model in demonstrations for clients. Furthermore, he patrolled the kennels with his comical stiff legs, where he met the lively young Adele, a Jack Russel. She and her brother Frik were both landmine sniffer dogs. Despite of his age and being retired, Snowy became the proud father of two puppies, a boy and a girl. The boy looked just like his father. This was a miracle, because after his near death fight with the Sudan dog, which left him with only one testicle and a shattered ego, he became the proud father of two beautiful puppies.
The mother, Adele, was a working dog and lost her interest in her puppies. The result was that Allister had to raise them by hand. The puppies were taken home and fed several times, night and day. This calling needed lots of commitment and time. At night the puppies were fed and in the day the puppies’ were brought to work in there basket.
Old age could not be avoided and has its infirmities. Snowy became more enfeebled due to the problems he had with his spine. Nevertheless, the grey hair on his face was no indication that his reputation had diminished. He did not tolerate anyone taking his ball from him and just you dare to put your hand through the window when he was in the car. His spirit was lively but the body refused to cooperate. Calcification contributed to the crumbling of his spine. The last weeks of Snowy’s life were painful and he was not able to walk. Snowy deteriorated, had pain and could not stand up. A decision was made to release him from his suffering. He was helped to Heaven as a last act of kind-heartedness. Snowy, the Landmine Killer dog, passed away two years after retirement, on 12 August 2009.
Snowy shall be remembered for the heroic acts he dutifully performed, his loyalty, the inspiration he provided to rise above his disadvantage beginning as young lost puppy to become a legend in his lifetime, which he still is today.
Thank you Snowy, it was an honour to meet you.
THE DOG’S PRAYER
O LORD OF HUMANS, MAKE MY MASTER FAITHFUL TO HIS FELLOWMEN AS I AM TO HIM. GRANT THAT HE MAY BE DEVOTED TO HIS FRIENDS AND FAMILY AS I AM TO HIM. MAY HE BE OPEN-FACED AND UNDECEPTIVE AS I AM; MAY HE BE TRUE TO TRUST REPOSED IN HIM AS I AM TO HIS. GIVE HIM A FACE CHEERFUL LIKE UNTO MY WAGGING TAIL; GIVE HIM A SPIRIT OF GRATITUDE LIKE UNTO MY LICKING TONGUE. FILL HIM WITH PATIENCE LIKE UNTO MINE THAT AWAITS HIS FOOTSTEPS UNCOMPLAININGLY FOR HOURS; FILL HIM WITH MY WATCHFULNESS, MY COURAGE, AND MY READINESS TO SACRIFICE COMFORT OR LIFE. KEEP HIM ALWAYS YOUNG IN HEART AND CROWDED WITH THE SPIRIT OF PLAY EVEN AS I. MAKE HIM AS GOOD A MAN AS I AM DOG; MAKE HIM WORTHY OF ME, HIS DOG.