Across China: Gas alert! Furry detector sniffs out danger

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by Xinhua writers Wu Shuguang and Lyu Qiuping

JINAN, Feb. 15 (Xinhua) — At the command of his handler, Youxian sniffs around a gas pipe, keeps woofing at his handler and refuses to budge. That means he has detected gas.

Youxian, meaning priority, is an 18-month-old German shepherd. He is the first sniffer dog specialized in gas leak detection in east China’s Shandong Province.

Introduced by the Jihua Gas company in the provincial capital of Jinan, the puppy started working in mid-November, when the city’s heating season began. With his super-sensitive nose, he has detected four gas leaks so far.

“The leakage point can be spotted even if the pipeline is buried underground,” said Liu Chengwei, senior manager of the company.

Liu said the company hired a team composed of a senior gas technician, three technicians and a dog handler for Youxian to detect leakage points along its 2,800-km pipeline.

If a pipe section in a certain area becomes old or has leaked before, it will be classified as a high-risk area, in which Youxian will be working to spot possible leaks for maintenance.

“We have to get it done as quickly as possible to root out the risk of a blast, and also prevent extended suspensions of gas supply,” Liu said, considering residents will freeze if their gas-fired heater shuts off.

Natural gas is colorless and odorless, but detector dogs can sniff it out because they have a supernatural sense of smell for tetrahydrothiophene, a chemical that has been added to the natural gas to serve as an alert for leaks.

Liu said gas leak detection was time-consuming and costly before the company welcomed Youxian.

“The technicians had to use a laser methane detector along the entire pipeline. Now with Youxian, they can pinpoint the leakage in a fast, accurate and cost-efficient manner,” he said.

Dog handler Wang Yongwei has been with Youxian since the puppy was trained in Xiamen, east China’s Fujian Province.

According to Wang, Youxian likes playing with all kinds of balls in his leisure time, and in addition to dog food, he enjoys beef and chicken.

Now that the residential communities have been locked down in Jinan amid the spread of the novel coronavirus, Wang and the dog are asked to stand by. Only in an emergency will they set out for a mission.

For the dog’s health, Wang disinfects the kennel with alcohol every day.

Youxian will return to Xiamen for training when the heating season is over, and hopefully, come back to Jinan for long-term service, according to Liu.

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