There’s no question it takes an immense amount of training, time, and effort to become a police officer, and the same goes for their four-legged co-workers.
It’s a demanding career, both physically and mentally. Just like the officers on the front lines, everyday police dogs and their handlers put their life on the line in a diverse range of elements. Also like their handlers, police dogs must have years of training under their collar.
“Generally we try to train once a week,” Cpl. Melvin Sansome, of North Battleford RCMP Police Dog Services, said.
“In our day we’ll probably run through the whole program spectrum for the dog. So we’ll do different types of tracks, sometimes we’ll do them in the city, out in the field, in industrial areas; anything in particular that we’re working for. (We’ll) do the aggression profile, we’ll do our drug and bomb searches depending on what dogs are around and need that work.”
Sansome says becoming a police dog handler was an easy decision.
“I was working in Newfoundland one time and I ended up chasing a guy through a field in a car, and he ditched the car and took off,” Cpl. Sansome said. “They brought out a dog unit to come assist me with locating him, and I went on my first track with the (handler) and located (the suspect) and I just thought it was the greatest thing in the world, and ever since then I focused that way.”
It’s a section of the RCMP that’s used in nearly every aspect of police work: Police dogs catch suspects, find evidence, and sniff out everything from drugs to the most vulnerable.
“Countless, countless, countless numbers of missing people the dogs to find in the field, in the bush area,” Sansome added.
“Even before you can mobilize the Search and Rescue team, even before you can get proper weather of clearance to use a helicopter or an aircraft, that dog is on the ground searching long before anybody else gets there.”
Sansome has been partnered with his dog, Eric, for a little over a year, and they’ve already accomplished a lot together.
In September 2017, Eric assisted Sansome in tracking down Brandon Stucka, who was driving a stolen vehicle when he collided head-on with a minivan on Highway 16 east of Lloydminster, killing three women from Edmonton.
Stucka ran from police, but Sansome and Eric tracked him down. Stucka has since been sentenced to 10 years in prison.
In April 2018, a Regina cab driver was stabbed in the neck while on the job. The suspects then stole his taxi and fled 400 kilometres north of Regina.
The stolen vehicle was located on Highway 16, which resulted in a police pursuit and officers exchanging gunfire with the suspects. Sansome and Eric were brought in and helped apprehend the suspects.
It takes hundreds of hour of training the dogs and their handlers to reach the level of Sansome and Eric, and the RCMP start them young.
“With the puppies, I take any opportunity I can to socialize them and familiarize them with different areas,” Cst. Tim Feasby said.
Feasby is a quarry, who are officers that raise or imprint young dogs before they head off to the RCMP Dog Training facility in Innisfail, Alta., once they are trained to a certain standard.
It’s a demanding job, but a rewarding one to say the least.
“It’s an incredibly rewarding job,” Sansome said. “I don’t envy the general duty members, their job is as hard as a face tattoo sometimes, they’re out there doing the work, and at the end of the day I get to work with the dog.”
“I have two kids, and sometimes the dog is easier than the kids, but it’s very rewarding,” Feasby said.
“When you see them maybe have trouble with the task and you work through it with them and bring them up to the level they need… Or the excitement you feel when finally that lightbulb goes off and they understand that tracking profile and they understand their training, it’s very rewarding in that sense.”