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Drugs concealed in children’s toys – Pepi, customs dog of the year, revealed the stashes

Publication date 27.11.2023 9.15
Press release

This year’s Customs Dog of the Year Award goes to Pepi, a drug detection dog that works in Turku. This year, Pepi’s sharp nose detected, e.g. narcotics concealed in children’s toys that arrived as freight from the Netherlands. The award is presented at the Dog Fair in December.

In March 2023, Customs’ drug detection dog Pepi was working at an express freight company’s warehouse in Turku. The dog indicated a freight consignment that contained 500 grams of amphetamine. The narcotics were concealed inside children’s toys. There were two such consignments.

Later in June of the same year, Pepi made another discovery in the warehouse of the same Turku express freight company – this time it was a children's puzzle, with 600 grams of the drug MDMA hidden inside it.

Both the amphetamine and the MDMA had arrived in Finland from the Netherlands. The combined street market value of the seized narcotics would have been around 36 000 euros.

– The action and indication of the drug detection dog played a very important role in both cases, in terms of uncovering the crime. Without the dog, these stashes of narcotics would probably have gone undetected, says the investigator in charge Kimmo Kaunisto from Customs.

Pepi will be given the customs dog of the year award for his excellent drug detection work this year and throughout his career. The award will be presented at the Dog Fair on 16 December at the Expo & Convention Centre Messukeskus in Helsinki. The Finnish Kennel Club annually awards working dogs for outstanding service.

Pepi is a calm, confident and meticulous worker

The Labrador retriever Pepi, started working as a customs dog together with his handler Mika Niemenmaa in 2017 at Helsinki-Vantaa airport. About a year ago, they moved from there to Turku.

– Our work environment is very versatile. For example, we meet passengers or cars arriving from ships in the port. We carry out controls in freight terminals and we work at the airport as well. In Turku, we do many things together with others, whereas at Helsinki-Vantaa the work was more independent, Niemenmaa says.

The 8-year-old Pepi is Niemenmaa’s third drug detection dog. According to his handler, Pepi’s working style is confident, spontaneous and active.

– Pepi has a very sensitive nose and he even catches smells from moving cars. As a puppy, Pepi was very withdrawn, but when the training stated, he surprised me with how active he was. Downtime at work Pepi uses to sleep, which is actually one of the dog’s strengths, Niemenmaa describes.

By nature, Pepi is calm and modest, and doesn’t really enjoy being the centre of attention. There would certainly be company at home, as the family also includes two other dogs and two rabbits. However, according to his trainer, Pepi mainly prefers to be on his own and in peace.

Customs dogs help to protect society

Most of the customs dogs are trained to detect narcotics, but Customs also has dogs specialised in searching for cigarettes, snus, cash and foodstuffs. 

Working dogs are part of Customs’ extensive enforcement work. The dog’s sense of smell is an irreplaceable help in Customs controls and preliminary investigations and the work yields results – the findings often lead to criminal investigations. In 2022, the customs dogs carried out 36 800 controls in total.

Images (photographer: Jukka Pätynen /

Media release