A dog’s life in the force

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS - By ANNA LOREN

Some top cops will lit­er­ally jump through hoops to get the job done.

Ger­man shep­herds bound over ob­sta­cles and play tug-of-war with fake sausages at the re­gion’s po­lice dog base in Eller­slie.

But it’s not all fun and games – this is one of the most dan­ger­ous jobs in the whole po­lice force.

Se­nior Sergeant Peter Ped­er­sen is the of­fi­cer in charge of the base – ‘‘The Dog­fa­ther’’, a sign on his door pro­claims.

He’s al­ways had a keen in­ter­est in ca­nine be­hav­iour and com­bin­ing that with front­line po­lice work is ‘‘the ideal vo­ca­tion’’, he says.

He over­sees 27 dog han­dlers and five co­or­di­nat­ing sergeants, cov­er­ing an area stretch­ing from Man­gawhai to just south of Port Waikato.

They can be called out to any­where in the re­gion at any time but also pro­vide as­sis­tance to the dog squads in Coro­man­del and North­land if needed.

Pup­pies are bred at the national po­lice dog cen­tre in Up­per Hutt and are taught to track peo­ple by scent and to take down an of­fender if needed.

Oth­ers are trained for search and res­cue work or to sniff out bod­ies, drugs or ex­plo­sives.

Train­ing each puppy costs about $35,000 and they join the force at 18 months old.

They’re then matched with a han­dler, who works with them dur­ing the day and takes them home at night.

‘‘You see them more than you see your own fam­ily mem­bers,’’ Mr Ped­er­sen says. ‘‘You build an affin­ity with them. I would defy any­one here to say they don’t love their dog, be­cause they do.’’

Auck­land’s top dog is 5-year-old Hawk. She’s the only fe­male po­lice dog in the re­gion and took home first place at the Aus­tralasian po­lice dog champs this year.

Her han­dler, Se­nior Con­sta­ble Bill Bir­rell, was first in­spired to join the dog squad at the age of 16, when a po­lice chase in­volv­ing a dog han­dler ended with a car crash­ing into his front fence.

‘‘All that ex­cite­ment, I thought, ‘this is a bit of me’,’’ he says.

Hang­ing out with dogs all day might sound like fun but Mr Bir­rell is care­ful not to glam­or­ise his job.

On any given day he and Hawk could be called out to a bur­glary, car theft, rape or mur­der.

Hawk is also trained for call­outs in­volv­ing the armed of­fend­ers squad, which means deal­ing with vi­o­lent crim­i­nals, of­ten un­der the in­flu­ence of var­i­ous sub­stances.

Mr Bir­rell says metham­phetamine, or P, has made his job far more dan­ger­ous than it used to be.

‘‘Hawk’s got a good tech­nique but you ramp that up with drugs or al­co­hol or men­tal in­sta­bil­ity and it’s an en­tirely dif­fer­ent ket­tle of fish.’’

He wouldn’t trade his job for any­thing but it does in­volve mo­ments of ‘‘sheer ter­ror’’, he says.

In­juries are a fact of life and 21 dogs have been killed in the line of duty since the started in 1956.

‘‘I think all of us have been in sit­u­a­tions where, if it wasn’t for our dog, hos­pi­tal was a very real pos­si­bil­ity, if not worse,’’ Mr Bir­rell says.

‘‘Three times it’s hap­pened to me where I thought ‘this is go­ing to be re­ally bad’. Thank­fully it hasn’t but that was be­cause my dog was able to come to my aid.’’ Dogs are usu­ally re­tired by the age of 8 and most go to live with their han­dlers or other mem­bers of the po­lice.



In charge: Se­nior Sergeant Peter Ped­er­sen, oth­er­wise known as ‘‘The Dog­fa­ther’’, heads up the Auck­land po­lice dog unit.

Top dog: Hawk is fresh from a win at the Aus­tralasian po­lice dog cham­pi­onships.

High alert: The ca­nine team can be called out at any time. Na­tion­ally, po­lice dogs at­tend about 40,000 in­ci­dents a year.

Skill set: Mr Bir­rell says good po­lice dogs have to be con­fi­dent in any en­vi­ron­ment. ‘‘It’s that drive and the will­ing­ness to re­spond to their han­dler.’’

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