Ca­nine Courage

How does a puppy be­come a po­lice dog? How does a po­lice dog be­come a hero? Rachel Rose goes be­hind the scenes with Cana­dian K-9 teams to find out more.

Reader's Digest (Canada) - - Contents - FROM THE DOG LOVER UNIT

How does a puppy be­come a po­lice dog? How does a po­lice dog be­come a hero? Rachel Rose goes be­hind the scenes with Cana­dian K9 teams to find out.

I CROUCH, SHIV­ER­ING, be­hind the shed. I’m about to be at­tacked by a huge black po­lice dog named Cade, and I’m not sure I can con­trol my panic. Six me­tres away from me, Cade is lung­ing, bark­ing fu­ri­ously, throw­ing his full 36 kilo­grams against the taut line of his han­dler, Con­sta­ble Dar­rell Moores. Cade wants to get me so badly, he’s frothing at the mouth, snap­ping the air with his teeth.

I asked to be here. I wanted to ex­pe­ri­ence what it felt like for suspects to be at­tacked by these tur­bocharged po­lice dogs. I knew I could write it bet­ter if I had lived it. This was all part of my plan, but in the mo­ment, my plan seemed in­sane. Why had I opened my big mouth a few min­utes ago and said to Moores, “What do I have to do around here to get per­mis­sion to take a bite?”

“Noth­ing on my watch,” Moores replied. “You want to take a bite now?”

As a mem­ber of the Royal Cana­dian Mounted Po­lice (RCMP), Moores was part of ERT, the fed­eral Emer­gency Re­sponse Team, be­fore he joined the Po­lice Dog Ser­vices (PDS). Prior to that he was in the mil­i­tary. Moores got his start in the Armed Forces at 17 years old, with a tour of duty in Yu­goslavia. He’s a big man, six foot two, rugged and rest­less, as ea­ger as his dog Cade for the next ad­ven­ture.

“Take a bite now?” I’d been think­ing there would be months of prepa­ra­tion and pa­per­work. Just like that, Moores calls my bluff.

“Sure,” he says, grab­bing the bite sleeve, which was made of coarse jute to pre­vent punc­ture wounds.

“Ready to go?” Moores asks. “Ready,” I man­age.

“Okay. Head over there, by that shed. When I call you to come out, just re­sist a lit­tle bit. What­ever you do, stay on your feet and pro­tect your face.”

We are up in the moun­tains north of Squamish, B.C., me and Cade and Moores and about eight or nine other po­lice dog han­dlers, all men. A cou­ple of the cops are watch­ing. I can’t back down. I have to give this my best at­tempt if I want to keep hang­ing out with them and their dogs. My heart jack­ham­mers in my chest.

What­ever hap­pens, it will soon be over. I told my­self this as I went into labour for the first time. I say it again now, grip­ping the steel bar in­side the padded arm I’m wear­ing, grit­ting my

teeth. “Po­lice! Hey, bad guy, come out!” shouts Moores. I know it’s just prac­tice, but it feels ter­ri­bly real.

“I’m not com­ing out!” I shout back, hop­ing my voice isn’t shak­ing.

“Come out, bad guy, or I’m send­ing my dog!”

I take a deep breath, square up my stance. “No! I’m not com­ing out!”

“Hag ’em up!” Moores shouts. “Hag!” And then Cade flies at me like a black de­mon and grabs my arm, shak­ing me in his jaws like a gi­ant chew toy.

What I haven’t an­tic­i­pated is the force of his strike. I make the mis­take of brac­ing, fight­ing Cade as he shakes me, rather than mov­ing along with him.

Quar­ries are what they call the suck­ers like me who vol­un­teer to get chewed on. Most of them are cops who want to be po­lice dog han­dlers. They ap­pren­tice on their own time and their own dime, week after week, year after year, in hopes they can some­day have a dog of their own in the force. But quarry is also a word for prey, for those who are hunted, and I am learn­ing all the def­i­ni­tions of the word at this pre­cise mo­ment. Vari­a­tions of “hag” are found in Nordic lan­guages, usu­ally in ref­er­ence to chop­ping or cut­ting.

Moores watches me care­fully. After what seems like an eter­nity but is prob­a­bly only a minute, he calls Cade off. The dog re­luc­tantly lets me go, leap­ing to bite the re­ward of a Kong chew on a rope that Moores of­fers as a sub­sti­tute for my arm.

“Good dog!” Moores praises Cade, swing­ing him around in the air by the rope chew. “What a good dog!” Moores says again, as he leashes him up.

Cade re­gards me with his bright black eyes.

“You okay?” Moores asks, and I nod, not trust­ing my­self to speak. He checks me over care­fully.

“I saw your face when he was com­ing and you looked so scared I al­most called him off. You sure you’re okay?”

“I’m fine,” I say. “I’m great! That was bet­ter than three espres­sos!”

He laughs. “You should have seen your face!”

“I was afraid I’d wet my pants,” I con­fess to him.

“You wouldn’t be the first,” Moores rum­bles down at me.

MOORES WATCHES ME CARE­FULLY. AFTER WHAT SEEMS LIKE AN ETER­NITY,

HE CALLS THE DOG OFF.

I laugh out loud. Moores de­cides I’m fine.

“So, ready for an­other go?”

Oh God, no. “Sure am,” I say.

“HEY, ROSE, READY to try some track­ing?” calls Moores after I’m done play­ing quarry. Cade trots along be­side me, his thick tail wag­ging as we leave the trail and plunge into the brush. He’s no longer in at­tack mode; he’s been told to search, but not for me. I’m not afraid of him at this mo­ment—just vig­i­lant.

In Canada, po­lice dogs are trained to do ev­ery­thing from search and res­cue to de­fend­ing their hu­man coun­ter­parts to de­tect­ing bombs and drugs. K-9 teams face dif­fer­ent chal­lenges de­pend­ing on whether they’re track­ing in re­mote north­ern ar­eas or densely pop­u­lated ur­ban en­vi­ron­ments, but in ev­ery case, they must be fit, fear­less and pre­pared for any­thing.

To­day, as we track, the cops talk about hunt­ing bad guys.

At 11 years old, I was the target of a se­rial sex of­fender who left a trail of other child vic­tims in his wake. I never found jus­tice. The ex­pe­ri­ence left me dis­trust­ful of all who were sup­posed to serve and pro­tect. No one pro­tected me. Even after all these years, the force of my anger sur­prises me.

So here I am, hav­ing made a com­mit­ment to spend long days and nights with those who are the first to ar­rive at crime scenes, the first to deal with vic­tims. I wanted to be made tough just by be­ing in their pres­ence—to find re­silience. I fig­ure I’ll spend a few ses­sions rid­ing along with po­lice dog teams around my city of Van­cou­ver. I have no idea what’s in store. I have no idea that I’m be­gin­ning a project that will ob­sess me for the next four years.

As Cade trots be­side me, I al­low my fin­gers to graze his black ruff. I am not sup­posed to do this—po­lice dogs are not pets. But I brush Cade, so lightly it could al­most be an ac­ci­dent. He swings his big head to look at me, black eyes ut­terly fear­less, pure al­pha, and I swear he grins back at me, light glint­ing off his ca­nines.

I FLY TO CAL­GARY in May 2014, a few months after my meet­ing with Cade and Moores, then ride the bus for an

CADE SWINGS HIS BIG HEAD TO LOOK

AT ME, PURE AL­PHA, AND I SWEAR HE GRINS BACK, CA­NINES GLINT­ING.

hour and a half to Red Deer, Alta. The next morn­ing, I meet se­nior po­lice dog trainer Tom Smith in the lobby of the Sand­man Hotel at 6:30 a.m. so he can drive us to the ken­nels. Smith is a man of medium build, with salt-and­pep­per hair. Most of the time he’s soft-spo­ken and easy­go­ing. It’s only when he’s telling me some of his past ex­pe­ri­ences as a K-9 cop that a hard­ness en­ters his eyes.

Sev­eral months ear­lier, I spent a week with Smith as he val­i­dated po­lice dog teams in the Lower Main­land, near Van­cou­ver. Each team that grad­u­ates from the RCMP ken­nels pro­gram is re­quired to be val­i­dated an­nu­ally to en­sure they con­tinue to meet or even ex­ceed stan­dards. Smith tells me that if he can’t pass a team, they have a max­i­mum of 15 re­me­dial train­ing days. If they are still un­suc­cess­ful, train­ers have to then make a de­ci­sion as to which part of the team is at fault—the dog or the han­dler.

For the rest of this par­tic­u­lar week, I will be in In­n­is­fail, south of Red Deer, in the com­pany of Smith, the dogs and the other RCMP po­lice dog han­dlers.

In­n­is­fail de­rives from a po­etic Gaelic term meaning Isle of Destiny, and this is where ev­ery RCMP po­lice dog in Canada (and many that end up as K-9s in the United States) is bred, born and raised. RCMP po­lice dogs used to come from any­where and everywhere. Some of those dogs worked out won­der­fully, but in other cases, the re­sults were un­even. Be­cause of this un­re­li­a­bil­ity, dog train­ers and vet­eri­nar­i­ans took over the re­spon­si­bil­ity of breed­ing all the dogs, en­sur­ing com­plete con­trol over the blood­lines and ev­ery as­pect of puppy and young dog train­ing. The science be­hind the RCMP breed­ing pro­gram is care­fully mon­i­tored at all lev­els.

These pure­bred Ger­man shepherd pups will meet their destiny at In­n­is­fail. Only about one in three will suc­ceed. The tests to be­come a po­lice dog are chal­leng­ing and be­gin when the dogs are just seven weeks old.

In­n­is­fail is also where cops who want to be­come po­lice dog han­dlers come to meet their destiny. By the time these po­lice of­fi­cers make it to the town, they have al­ready proven both their ded­i­ca­tion and their skill.

IN­N­IS­FAIL IS WHERE EV­ERY RCMP PO­LICE DOG (AND MANY K-9S IN THE U.S.)

IS BRED, BORN AND RAISED.

Most of the time, dog han­dlers are cops who have al­ready put in up to five or six years of vol­un­tary, daily, un­paid train­ing and dog care on top of their reg­u­lar du­ties as po­lice of­fi­cers. They vol­un­teer as quar­ries, and raise and im­print po­lice pups in their homes, pass­ing them on to ex­pe­ri­enced han­dlers when the dogs are old enough.

They do all this in hopes of one day be­ing cho­sen to go to In­n­is­fail them­selves. Most of them never will. Ac­cord­ing to Smith, there are 150 names on the list at any given time and only four to eight are cho­sen ev­ery year.

WE HEAD TO IN­N­IS­FAIL with a full truck—four new po­lice-dog han­dlers and their dogs. Once we ar­rive at the ken­nels, Smith puts me in the very ca­pa­ble hands of an­other po­lice dog trainer, Eric Stebenne, for the week.

This is what I learn while out with the dog teams: no mat­ter what kind of shape you are in, noth­ing pre­pares you for track­ing. The han­dlers have to keep up with their dogs the whole time. They have to make the de­ci­sion to crawl after their dogs un­der barbed-wire fences or to heave their an­i­mals over the fences and then fol­low. But what­ever their dogs do, they must do, too, or risk hav­ing their long lines be­come hope­lessly, haz­ardously tan­gled. When they lose a scent, the team has to loop back, run­ning in con­cen­tri­cally grow­ing cir­cles un­til they find their trail again.

After three tracks, I can barely stum­ble back to the truck, and I’m so far be­hind that I hear, rather than see, that mo­ment where the dog finds the quarry and at­tacks, growl­ing and bark­ing.

“I don’t know how you guys do it,” I gasp, leaning against the truck. One of the guys laughs and takes off his belt, which holds a gun, a flashlight, a ra­dio and a whole bunch of other gear. He straps it around my hips and steps back. I can barely stand erect with the ex­tra 11 kilo­grams pulling me down.

“Do you re­ally run with all this? I guess I have to shut up now,” I say, and the guys laugh.

We are out in stun­ning coun­try­side, with an end­less sky and fields and plains so open it feels like you could run for­ever. The long days pass in a blur. As I run along, I learn how to read

THIS IS WHAT I LEARN: NO MAT­TER WHAT KIND OF SHAPE YOU’RE IN, NOTH­ING

PRE­PARES YOU FOR TRACK­ING.

po­lice dogs’ body lan­guage, how to tell when a dog is aim­lessly search­ing and what he looks like when he hits the scent and be­comes to­tally fo­cused. I learn how to keep go­ing and keep go­ing.

I SPEND SOME af­ter­noons hang­ing out at the ken­nels. I am in the ca­pa­ble hands of the two Louises who are core staff: Louise Pa­quet and Louise Falk. The breed­ing pro­gram couldn’t op­er­ate with­out these ken­nel at­ten­dants; they know dogs like no­body’s busi­ness and have ded­i­cated their lives to rais­ing po­lice dogs.

It goes with­out say­ing that Louise Pa­quet loves dogs, but she tells me about it any­way. “My old­est boy found this mutt. We named him Je­sus Mur­phy. I have Thea and Deena at home, too. Deena be­longs to the RCMP.”

Deena is one of the RCMP’s breed­ing moth­ers. Like the other moth­ers, she lives with fam­i­lies when she is not in the ken­nels with a new lit­ter. Five days be­fore a brood dog is due to give birth, she leaves her foster fam­ily and comes back into the ken­nels, where she stays un­der the watch­ful eye of the Louises and the other staff un­til the pups are weaned.

It’s a big job the Louises have. Along with the other ken­nel staff, they do the early so­cial­iz­ing of ev­ery lit­ter of pup­pies and take care of all the adult dogs, as well. The pup­pies start their train­ing on their first day of life, when the ken­nel staff be­gin get­ting them used to hu­man touch.

At 15 days, the pups are started on a so­cial­iza­tion reg­i­men that in­volves re­mov­ing them from their nest and get­ting the pads of their paws used to feel­ing a va­ri­ety of sur­faces un­der­foot.

When I walk the rows of ken­nels where the adult dogs are caged, they run to the fence, bark­ing fu­ri­ously, jump­ing on the wire that sep­a­rates us. They scratch and whine, beg­ging to be re­leased, to go out and do some­thing.

Their ken­nels are two small rooms with bare ce­ment floors, open to the out­side, easy to hose down and to clean, but nei­ther cozy nor stim­u­lat­ing. How­ever, these an­i­mals aren’t pets; they are sol­diers. They live in barracks as de­void of colour or com­fort as any army post.

THE PUPS START TRAIN­ING ON THE FIRST DAY OF THEIR LIVES, WHEN STAFF

GET THEM USED TO HU­MAN TOUCH.

Luck­ily, po­lice dogs don’t usu­ally spend long at the ken­nels. They might go to this hold­ing sta­tion while their han­dlers are re­cov­er­ing from an in­jury, or while they are wait­ing to be re­matched with a new of­fi­cer. But the work these dogs do is valu­able, and they are in de­mand. Most of the han­dlers go to great lengths to avoid leav­ing their dogs at the ken­nels. They like to keep their an­i­mals close, and are so con­nected that it feels strange to be with­out their trusty side­kick.

Any­one who mar­ries into a po­lice dog fam­ily knows, or quickly learns, that it’s a pack­age deal: the bonus is the big Ger­man shepherd who will al­most al­ways be part of the fam­ily un­til the day he dies.

“COME SEE THE pup­pies,” says Louise Pa­quet, tak­ing me to the nurs­ery. We scrub up like sur­geons, and I prom­ise not to touch any of the ba­bies. It’s a hard prom­ise to keep. They are asleep, squished against each other. Ev­ery now and then one crawls away from his sib­lings, search­ing blindly for his mother and for milk. Pups in the first lit­ter I see still have their eyes sealed shut, but the next is full of ba­bies with storm­blue eyes. They look at me, solemn, be­fore cud­dling back to sleep.

Pa­quet passes me off to Louise Falk, who is do­ing a puppy demon­stra­tion for a TV show. Falk comes run­ning out of the ken­nels, wear­ing a dark uni­form and a bright big smile. She has six black-and-brown tum­ble-bum­ble pup­pies hot on her heels.

Falk runs fast enough that the pups have to re­ally hus­tle to keep up. They tag along into the puppy-train­ing arena, where she leads them through the gate and shuts it be­hind her. Al­ready, at only seven weeks old, the pups know how to fol­low her through var­i­ous ob­sta­cles. That doesn’t mean they are happy about work­ing. As soon as they are sep­a­rated from Falk by the wire fence, they start a se­ries of sharp, whin­ing protests that don’t let up. She leads them around the ring from the out­side, and they fol­low ea­gerly through the ob­sta­cles. Even though they are still ba­bies, trip­ping over their big paws, they work a puppy course that is a replica of what the big dogs

AT THE NURS­ERY, WE SCRUB UP LIKE SUR­GEONS, AND I PROM­ISE NOT TO TOUCH

ANY OF THE BA­BIES. IT’S HARD.

must mas­ter, com­plete with tun­nels and steps, mazes and bridges and wob­bly bal­ance boards.

The pups do very well, protest­ing all the while—Yip, yip, yip! Yip, yip, yip!— but then one lit­tle fel­low goes into a maze and can’t find his way out. He goes bal­lis­tic, yo­delling and yip­ping, as the other pups whim­per, run­ning after Falk but look­ing over their shoul­ders at their slow sib­ling. Falk gives him a minute to fig­ure it out. When he doesn’t, she cir­cles her whole pack back and guides the lost pup back to the pack. He qui­ets at once.

AT IN­N­IS­FAIL, I also get to see the pup­pies tested. The han­dlers warn me be­fore­hand not to in­ter­fere in any way. There are four train­ers to ad­min­is­ter the test. One han­dles the pups and three ob­serve and score. These tests are crit­i­cal in de­ter­min­ing whether these roly-poly pups will be­come some­one’s pet or elite mem­bers of the po­lice dog force.

The first test the pups take is at seven weeks. This lit­ter is a group of six fuzzballs.

First, each pup is sep­a­rated from its sib­lings and brought in a crate to the en­trance of a strange room. Will they en­ter the room boldly and fear­lessly, or will they hang back, whim­per­ing? The first pup on deck is a black fe­male, strong and solid on her over­sized paws. She trots into the room, cu­ri­ous but un­afraid. Al­ready, she moves like a win­ner, and passes the fol­low­ing round of tests beau­ti­fully.

The next test is to see again how she re­sponds to stress.

She is flipped on her back and held down for 30 sec­onds to see whether she will fight to re­gain her foot­ing or just give up. This girl’s a fighter. She scrab­bles and whines and licks the trainer’s hand fran­ti­cally, not sur­ren­der­ing. Then the han­dler picks her up and holds her off the ground, mak­ing no eye con­tact. Does she strug­gle or does she give up? The RCMP wants a dog that is not sub­mis­sive, and this lit­tle girl strug­gles valiantly, paws churn­ing the air as she fights for pur­chase.

When the pup is re­leased, she’s scored on how she re­cov­ers. Im­me­di­ately, she jumps up, shakes her­self off

THE FI­NAL TWO PUPS DON’T MAKE THE CUT AT ALL. HOW CAN ONE TEST AT SEVEN

WEEKS DE­TER­MINE THEIR FU­TURE?

and trots over to the trainer. She licks his hand and hops on his arm. Al­though she didn’t ap­pre­ci­ate the ex­er­cise, she doesn’t hold a grudge. “Let’s go!” she seems to be say­ing to him. “What’s next?”

The tests con­tinue: the trainer blows up a pa­per bag and pops it, test­ing the pup’s fear re­sponse to un­ex­pected noises. She looks up but doesn’t lose her cool, and when he crum­ples the bag and throws it, she fol­lows and fetches. How a dog fetches and chases, how much hunt­ing drive she has, is the best barom­e­ter of how she will do as a track­ing an­i­mal, and po­lice dogs at the RCMP are prized above all for their abil­ity to track.

This puppy’s only seven weeks old, but her drive is in­tense and re­lent­less. She has ev­ery sign of be­com­ing a po­lice dog.

“Fe­males tend to score bet­ter at first,” the trainer tells me. “They ma­ture faster and test bet­ter, but then around ado­les­cence that ad­van­tage drops off.”

Out of the six pups, two pass with fly­ing colours and two pass with reser­va­tions, while the fi­nal two don’t make the cut at all. This just doesn’t seem fair. How can one test at seven weeks de­ter­mine their whole fu­ture?

Whether I like it or not, these tests have proven re­mark­ably ac­cu­rate in pre­dict­ing which pups will be­come suc­cess­ful po­lice dogs. The pups that don’t pass will be adopted by mem­bers of the pub­lic. Those pup­pies that do pass will soon be sent to live and work with of­fi­cers across Canada who have com­pleted the pup­py­train­ing course and who want to be­come po­lice dog han­dlers. These of­fi­cers prove their ded­i­ca­tion by vol­un­teer­ing to raise, train and love these pup­pies for a year. After that, they have to say good­bye and let go, send­ing the dogs back to In­n­is­fail to be matched with their new han­dlers.

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