Sydney Opera House Extends Six-Figure Contract for Dogs That Chase Seagulls

The Sydney Opera House in Australia has renewed a contract that will pay AU$376,380 ($265,515 USD) for a team of dogs over the next two years to chase seagulls away from the iconic landmark.

The pooches are from a company called Mad Dogs and Englishmen, which has been supplying canines for the job since a trial run that began in 2018. The company's website states that it is "Australia's most popular dog walking and doggy daycare service."

The dogs were signed to an initial Opera House contract after the trial was proven a success.

"We had a trial for a day and found it was great to keep them away while we are there; when we leave, the seagulls come back in force," said James Webb, the company's owner and principal dog trainer.

The dozen or so dogs have been trained to shoo the pesky birds away from outdoor diners seated along the shore of the Opera House, where multiple eateries are located. During Australia's scorching summer months, the seagulls that inhabit Sydney Harbor have become infamous for dive-bombing plates of food belonging to unsuspecting sightseers.

"The results have been incredibly positive, with the seagulls keeping their distance when the dogs are present," the Opera House said in a statement.

Sydney Opera House dog
The Sydney Opera House has renewed a two-year contract for a team of dogs trained to shoo seagulls away from hungry diners at the landmark. Here, patrol dog Roxy can be seen with her handler in 2019. Brook Mitchell/Getty

Additionally, Webb lauded the amount of money that the dogs are helping the Opera House restaurants save.

"Financially, it pays for itself because of the amount of money the restaurants save," Webb said. "The dogs love it, and we've refined our training over the years to where it is now."

Despite this, there has been opposition to the contract in the local government, with some decrying the expense on the dogs as a waste of money.

"It is simply ludicrous that the state government is frittering away more than $376,000 on a dog and its handler to stroll up and down the Opera House lower concourse," Walt Secord, the Australian Labor Party's Minister for Arts, told The Daily Telegraph. "Why is the NSW [New South Wales] taxpayer subsidising clam-eating, chardonnay-sipping, tuxedo-clad opera-goers?"

"This is yet another example of wasteful spending from this government, especially during COVID-19," Secord continued.

However, the Opera House shot back, reiterating that taxpayers were not contributing any cost to the program, and that the venue paid for the contract out of its own pocket.

"It's a nominal percentage of commercial revenue that greatly improves the experience of our visitors, reduces refunds, food wastage, and staffing costs," the Opera House said, adding that "seagulls have long been a nuisance to patrons along the Lower Concourse, negatively impacting the experience for visitors and posing a health and safety risk."

Visitors at the venue were also reportedly happy with the work that the pups were doing.

One diner told ABC Australia, "Last time I came here, me and my mum came to eat and we were attacked by birds and we had to leave because I couldn't deal because it was really bad."

"So at least with the dogs here it's better for everyone, so they can actually enjoy their food."

Newsweek has reached out to the City of Sydney, Australia, for comment.