FRCS Honors First Female Narcotic Dog Handler in the Pacific

Senior Customs Officer Joana Duabaubau is the first female Narcotic Dog Handler in the Pacific. Ms. Duabaubau graduated from the New Zealand Police Dog Training Centre in Trentham,Wellington after nine weeks of training.  As she transitions into her new role at the Fiji Detector Dog Unit (FDDU) in Suva, Ms. Duabaubau shares with us her journey to becoming a certified narcotic drug dog operational handler.

Can you describe your work at the Fiji Revenue and Customs Service (FRCS)?

I joined FRCS as an attaché and was later recruited as a Customs officer. I have worked in FRCS for more than 10 years in various sections of the Customs Revenue Division. Currently, I am in the Border Division working as an operational dog handler with the Fiji Detector Dog Unit (FDDU). At FDDU, I will be working with our detector dogs to detect illicit substances, ammunition and currencies in various situations.

How did you decide to become a K-9 handler?

My interest developed during the open day organised by the FRCS and Fiji Police Force to encourage female staff to become K-9 handlers on October 22nd, 2022. The instructors from Trentham’s Dog Training Centre in New Zealand shared their experiences and highlighted the significance of dedication and hard work in safeguarding the border from illegal substances. This event piqued my interest and inspired me to become a part of the team.

Can you describe your training in dog handling?

I completed a nine-week training course at the New Zealand Police Dog Training Centre in Trentham to become a

 certified narcotic drug dog operational handler. The training involved various activities including kennel management and getting to know our drug detector dogs. We attended lessons in the classroom and the field where we received practical exercises. Our instructors emphasized the importance of understanding our roles as dog handlers and trained us

 on how to recognise specific substances and respond when our dogs detected them. Additionally, we were taught various commands to train thedogs, maintain their health and welfare and deploy them in work-related areas. During the training, we also bonded with our dogs and participated

 in physical exercises. Despite the challenges, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of learning my trade with the other Pacific participants.

Dog handling is typically seen as a male-dominated profession, what are some of the challenges that you faced during your training or while carrying out your work?

I must say that the physical pressure of the job is one thing that I have psyched myself for. Dog handling is physically demanding. It requires handlers to be on their feet for extended periods of time to perform tasks such as running, lifting heavy objects and controlling strong large dogs.  I also had to balance work and my family responsibilities. However, I am thankful that I have a supportive team and family that understands the nature of my work and supports me when I need it.

In your view what can the female dog handlers do to make them stand out in this profession?

I believe that offering women a chance to take on new roles can increase their self-assurance. I firmly believe that women have the same level of capability as men and have unique perspectives to contribute. Creating a supportive atmosphere can be very beneficial for women who may face obstacles due to societal norms and gender prejudices. Embracing fresh challenges has revealed positive qualities and personal traits that I may not have discovered if I had remained in my comfort zone.

How has FRCS assisted you in pursuing your aspiration to become a K-9 handler?

As a customs officer, I have never had to question whether or not I was fit for the role because I am a female. Women in customs are sent to sites for inspection, raids, vessel clearance and boarding. We have always had supportive mentors and supervisors that looked after our wellbeing and supported us when we needed support.

What advise do have for other women to inspire them to become a dog handlers?

Don’t hold back. Whether it is a task that is unfamiliar to you or aiming for a high ranking position. Each choice presents a chance to gain knowledge and develop. We should not restrict our capabilities due to our apprehension of change or uncertainity. Women have been holding significant positions in customs and are being acknowledged for their contributions.

What are your future plans?

My aim is to first advance in this position by improving the efficiency of our work processes and work towards a leadership role. However, my immediate focus is to leverage my workshop experience to develop myself further and assist my team with the protection of our communities from the illegal trafficking of drugs, ammunition and other contraband.

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