About the Service Canine Unit
Since the early 1990's, all the Police Service Dog's have been issued ballistic Patrol Vests through the generosity of donations by private citizens and business with assistance from K9 Storm Inc.
In 2011 the retirement policy for the Service's canines was changed. Prior to this, each handler at the time of the canine partner's retirement purchased his/her canine partner for a minimal fee. The handler was then responsible for all food, kennelling and vet bills for his/her canine partner. As with humans the medical bills for these canines are typically more expensive as the canine ages. At times, this could be thousands of dollars per year.
In 2011 the Canine Unit created a Retirement/Vest Fund. The money raised in this fund is used solely to improve the performance and safety for the active canines as well a high quality of life for the canines in their retirement years. The canines dedicate their lives to serving the citizens of Winnipeg and it is only right that they are comfortable in retirement. They have earned it.
When a canine partner does pass on, the Service is planning to properly recognize these canines for their contributions to the community they have served by establishing a canine burial site at the new kennels.
Here are some ways your donations will assist us with these goals:
- Ballistic Vests - Each canine will be provided ballistic body armour so
they are protected at the same level as their handler.
- Medical Bills – Food and dental for retired canines.
- Police Dog Memorial -To provide funeral and burial costs for both active and retired canines.
- Specialized Training and/or Equipment -Additional funds will assist with specialized training/seminars and/or equipment for the canines that cannot be funded under the current training budget.
100% of all money will be spent with the canine's best interest in mind.
To make a donation large or small and receive a tax receipt, download the Donation Form.
Click here to download the donation form.
The bond between police dog and handler is difficult to describe. It's not unlikely for a handler to spend more time with his K9 partner then his friends and family. The following two stories are written by K9 Handlers about the bond between police dog and a handler.
For most of us on this job, it doesn’t take long to realize the true value of a partner. We’ve all attended retirements in which the stories inevitably focus on legendary partnerships. No matter where this person has worked on the job, it’s often a particular partnership that is the highlight of their career. Those of you who have experienced partnerships like that know they are everlasting. The stories and memories you have will be with you forever, long after the partnership is dissolved. It’s a partnership a civilian would never understand and it would be a waste of time trying to explain it. For those officers who have experienced such a partnership, you know exactly what I’m talking about. For those who haven’t, you can only hope you will experience this in your career. A good partner is absolutely the difference between loving this job to the point you can’t wait to get to work, and coming to work every day to collect a paycheque.
I have had the distinct pleasure to work with, in my mind, some of the very best in this business and these are everlasting partnerships to me. As a canine handler, however, this partnership is extended to the next level. As a dog handler, I may spend 5-8 years with my partner which is virtually unheard of in the ‘human’ side of our service. When you work with a dog as a partner, you always know where you stand. His motives are very simple: catch bad-guys. There are no politics, no games, it’s really just policing in it’s purest form. When you go to a call, it’s you and him. You’re either going to catch the guy or he’s going to get away. That simple. When you and your dog find someone at the end of a track, it’s the handler that’s given all the credit. Your partner doesn’t seem to get much and really doesn’t want any from anyone other than you. You were a team out there, yet in the end, the only credit your partner wants if from you because you’re the only person in this world he wants to please. Your dog is never going to be interested in ‘attaboys’ from the higher-ups. Their ‘attaboy’ is the guy they’ve been tracking and caught in a backyard hiding. You know that no matter what happens, your dog will give it 100% all the time. At one command, your dog will lay his life down for you without question, and without fear. This sense of partnership is carried over to our home life. We live with our dogs. They are a part of our family and we feel that bond with them. I guarantee you if you ask a dog handler to describe his immediate family, he will include his dog in that description. Of the members in our family, we likely spend the most time with our dog so our bond is immeasurable.
This partnership sounds unbelievable and you know what? It is. There is a downside, however. As dog handlers, we all face two extremely hard days in our career: the day we have to retire our dog and the day we have to end our dog’s life. Imagine having a dog who’s entire joy in life comes from working. Home is a place to eat, sleep, be comfortable, and get ready to come back to work. Our dogs are not pets. We treat them well at home, but they live to work. They live to catch bad-guys. Our dogs work on the ‘4-10’ just like us. They come home, recharge their batteries for couple of days, then begin to pace in their kennel until they are loaded up and come to work. They get in the cruiser car and they’re pure business. They can’t wait to get busy and that’s when they’re happiest. So having 5-7 years of this ritual with your dog and then one day taking him home and never bringing him back to work is devastating for him and us. Unfortunately we can’t explain ‘retirement’ to our dogs. To them, all of a sudden Dad has gone to work and left them and they don’t understand why. The pain they feel in their shoulders and hips from years of jumping fences in the pursuit of the mis-guided is not enough to prevent them from wanting to get in the car with us. And so they sit in their kennel and they wait. Maybe Dad will take me tomorrow but he never does. We’re forced to turn our backs on our partners, and we can’t make them understand why we’ve done this to them. To make matters worse, we still have to face them – everyday. Of course as handlers we do what we can to turn them into pets and make them comfortable but ultimately we know where their heart lies.
Then, at some point, one of the hardest decisions a handler will ever have to make becomes reality. Should I put my dog down? Looking at him every day in his kennel is gut-wrenching. They may be in pain and they’re certainly unhappy with what their lives have become. There becomes a point where you realize keeping him on this earth is completely selfish. His work is done here and he’s ready to go, his misery all too evident. Finally, perhaps after many sleepless nights, you decide it’s time. You don’t tell anyone, you just take him and load him up for one more ride. You take him to the vet, say your goodbyes, and soon it’s over. Your partnership is over.
On April 15, 2006, D/Sgt. Dave Bessason carried through with a decision he’d likely made months earlier to stop his retired partner (P.S.D. “BUDDY”) from having to live another day in pain. Dave and his dog P.S.D. “BUDDY” left a mark on this department which forever changed the face of our canine unit. Their success on the street was unparalleled. They were hunters who took on each other’s personality. Neither would give up, no matter what. If there was any chance of catching the guy, they would not quit until that chance was taken away. Because of their ability, our tracking program has become second to none. We’ve had to teach our handlers and our members the art of containment. Criminals quickly realized that running a block or two and hiding was no longer an option. ‘Containment’ became a word we all got to know. Due to Buddy’s success, Dave began a breeding program within the department and the skill Buddy possessed was passed on to his offspring. Today, all but three dogs in our unit are the offspring of Buddy. On April 15, the partnership of Dave and P.S.D. “BUDDY” ended, however Buddy had been retired for two years. During those two years, he sat in his kennel and waited for the day he could go back to work. As Dave left for work, his wife would hear Buddy sit in his kennel and whine. He would continue this all day, until Dave returned home. Buddy wanted to work. That’s what he was put on this earth to do. I’m sure if you could get into his head, he would give his life for one more track with a bad-guy at the end of it. I would often go to Dave’s house and see Buddy in his kennel and I felt sorry for him. This is clearly not what he wanted in his life. He wanted to be at work. When he could no longer do this, Dave made likely one of the hardest decisions he’s ever had to make. He did the humane thing and let Buddy go. Their partnership is over. April 15, 2006 is a sad day for our unit. For a lot of us, the patriarch of our unit has passed away and we’re now left to look at his off-spring and know that we are a day closer to having to carry out this decision ourselves. Someday, the partnerships we have with our dogs will end as well and I know we all dread it. I think we all hope wherever Buddy is now, he’s got a tracking harness on him and the smell of fear-scent in his nose, and he’s on one last track waiting for Dave to say….TAKE HIM, BUDDY….
SAYING GOOD-BYE TO A BEST FRIEND AND PARTNER IN CRIME
I had day-dreamed about and dreaded this moment for a long time. I did not know when it would come, but I knew the time was drawing near.
On the evening of October 17, 2010 I left work and went to the OPC to help out with a course. I saw many old friends and we shared a few drinks afterwards. Michelle was at home having drinks/wings with our friend Carrie Tokarcyzk. My 15 yr old daughter and 13 yr old son were at their Mother's. As I was being driven home, I received a text from Michelle that Argo is not doing well and on-duty K9 Officer Dave Reid was there to examine him. Argo is my retired Police Service Dog. We worked as partners from January 2000 - June 2006, primarily as 5 Section's Dog Team. I arrived home shortly after, just as Dave was leaving. The look on his face said it all. I went in to find Argo laying on the dining room floor. His breathing was laboured, his tongue and gums were white, he was bloated and could not get up or even stand. He was laying in his own excrement as Michelle and Carrie were consoling him. He had started going downhill that day at around 7:00 pm while I was gone. Michelle didn't want to worry me because she knew how much I had been looking forward to this night. My first thought was that he was suffering from "Bloat". After checking him over and doing some more research, I took a chance and decided it was not bloat and did not take him to the emergency vet.
The next morning I took him to our longtime Vet, Tom Oster at Whitehills Animal Clinic. Argo was not much better the next morning but showed some improvement. He could still barely walk and when he did, he was stumbling sideways. Some blood work was done and he was examined. The results were not good. Tom gave me the same look that Dave did the night before. It was time. I did not want him to be put down at that moment for many reasons. Tom gave him some medicine that would bung him up and take him through the night comfortably. We would return when the Vet's office closed the next day at 5:00.
The kids came over for the night and Argo devoured a big strip-loin steak smothered in blue cheese for dinner (first thing he has eaten in 36 hours). Dave Reid, Travis Wintjes, and Gareth Harris told me not to worry about a thing regarding arrangements, they would handle them. I made a few phone calls to people I thought they might forget. I have had the honour of being present for retired Narcotics Detector Dog Mocha (handled by Rob Merrimen) and Police Service Dog Tex (handled by Gareth Harris) send-offs to the next stage in this circle of life. Our family spent the night watching TV together and spoiling Argo with every crazy treat he is not supposed to have. Our other dog, Nala, did not know what ws going on but enjoyed it. The next morning Argo had some leftover steak and eggs for breakfast, the kids gave him ice cream and pizza pops for lunch. We went for a walk to his favourite area, the old Indian museum near our old place on Attawandaron Road. My daugther had brought her Mother's retriever over, as Argo had helped to raise and socialize her years ago. As many dog owners know, on D-Day, many dogs perk up on that day and act as if everything was ok. Although Argo had a great walk, I knew it was still time as his stool was pure blood and his scrotum had expanded to an overly impressive size. We then went home and spoiled him for a few more hours. The minutes flew by.
Unfortunately like clockwork, Gareth sent me a message at around 4:15 that he and K9 Sgt Pool were on their way. It was go-time and my heart sank. Am I really making the right decision for him? Can he pull out of this one like he had so many times before? I knew the answer was "yes" to making the right decision and I had to stay strong for him. He deserved it. My son Erik had decided that he wanted to say goodbye at home. My daugther Olivia who is almost 16 wanted to be there. I knew she could go through it and should. I had brought my first dog to the Vet when I was 16 for the same reason. It is a heartbreaking life experience, but one that I feel everyone should endure to the end if put in that situation.
Just after 4:30, Sgt. Pool showed up in our driveway in cruiser K96 (our old call sign and cruiser # that we seemed to kick the most @*$@ in. Argo was excited and JUMPED in the back. Gareth was driving our personal vehicle with Michelle and my daughter and her boyfriend. As we were about to leave, Trevor had to stop the cruiser once more, as Erik was extremely upset and had to say good-bye to Argo one more time.
We then drove to the vet one last time. Once in a relatively unpopulated area, Trevor put on the roof lights and sirens. We drove HOT to the Vet and when we arrived, it was like a flashback to 5 years ago. I opened the cruiser door, put the leash on Argo and he leapt out of the back with his chest puffed out like superman. He was READY TO ROCK (my old command for him as we were leaving home for work). The first thing I noticed was how full the parking lot was. I smiled to myself and reminded Argo how many people loved him. We walked into the Vet and had a catheter put in his left leg for what was yet to come. It was taped up in blue tape and then we went to go meet the boys. Our Vet has a nice backyard to his office/apt and when Argo, Michelle and I walked to the back we were greeted by friends, family, retired dog handlers and the current K9 Unit. Derek Spence handed me a bottle of my favourite whiskey. We were shown a catalogue from the cremation company (Gateway) and asked to choose an urn for his remains. I learned that Gateway provides the cremation and urn at no charge for Service Dogs. Argo cruised around everyone and loved every minute of it. His tail would not stop wagging. In the past, whenever we would meet up with ERS Officers for a Training Day or debrief, Argo loved to just hang out with his crew. Our gathering had several beverages and Argo took several Bites from a training sleeve, maybe even a sip of beer. GOD how he loved that sleeve! He showed off some of his PREY GUARDING skills as the boys cheered him on. He would not leave the sleeve alone and you know what? WHO CARES!
It was now just after 6:00 and it was time. We had placed a blanket out in the sun for him to lay on, but he would have no part of it. He wanted to stay right in the middle of his PACK with his sleeve. I then brought the blanket into the middle of the pack and he lay on it, but not giving up his sleeve. I removed his collar for the last time. Tom placed the first injection into the catheter which was to put Argo to sleep before the final injection. My daugther wanted to stay for this portion. Although not angry, Argo fought this part to the end. After what seemed like an eternity (probably 45 seconds), Argo was still laying proud, with his head up, ears perked and looking into my eyes as if to say "hey guys, why are you all crying?" Tom the Vet then returned and advised that he would be putting the lethal injection into his other leg. My daugther then said her good-byes as Michelle and I knelt by our boy. We spoke to him and held him for those final moments. The final injection was quick but not too quick. Argo's proud head slowly sank until he died with his chin on his sleeve and his eyes fixed on mine. Olivia had returned at some point and although upset, rubbed my back as we all said our last words to him. I was sooo proud of her. We then moved Argo onto a portable stretcher. Gareth and Dave took the front and Trevor and I carried the rear, Michelle walked with us into the Office. I knew what was to come and was prepared to stay. This stage is not glamorous. He is put into a large plastic bag and then into a chest freezer. Trevor suggested I leave, and I did not argue. Michelle and I said our good-byes one more time and went outside.
We had a few more beverages and people slowly left. Michelle and I were then driven to the Association by our long-time friend, Kelly Ryan. We celebrated Argo that night. Thanks for the Irish Whiskey Neal! When we went home, Michelle and I looked over pictures of our Boy and then went to sleep.
The next morning was rough and I have to thank my recruit, Ryan Hendrick. He knew how tough this was and understood why I did not speak much that day.
I'm sure many who are reading this are saying.....come on, he was a dog! Others will say, "I know how you feel, I have had pets as well". I do appreciate those who empathize with us. Dave Reid put it best the night before and I don't mean to offend any by repeating it. He said " Hey Cor, just wanted to let you know I'm thinking about you guys. I know this is a hard time that most people will never understand." My belief is that to be a good handler, you need to have a bond with your dog that cannot be broken. It must be genuine. Dogs have an excellent perception of emotion. They can tell when you are happy, angry or whatever just by your body language. We had that genuine bond. For those who have pets, imagine getting to spend your entire day working with them and then getting to spend all of your off-time with them. Imagine your pet having saved your life and you having saved his. Imagine both of you tracking, chasing and battling bad guys, side by side for years, and then coming home together to rest for the next tour.
Argo and I had been through it all. I don't exaggerate when I say he saved my life. We were once tracking across the Thames, when the track seemed to end at a large hole in the ice. Argo continued passed it but I (stupidly) had to make sure our prey had not fallen through. Well, I got too close and the ice broke beneath my feet and in I went. I then realized how quickly your body starts to shut down when subjected to such cold. I could feel my legs being swept by the current as I held onto the ice. My thighs felt numb almost instantly and my chest got so tight that I could barely breathe. Argo came back to try and help. He still had his tracking line on, and I commanded him to apprehend an Officer who was on shore as I held on to the line. Argo then pulled me out of the ice cold water to safety. The next day, the guys on the Unit bought me some water-wings!
Our Police Dogs are bred and then trained to have no fear. Argo was no exception to that. There are countless occasions where he had put his life on the line for the public, other Officers and for me. Never out of anger, it was his job and he loved it.
He was not a raving lunatic. He was a gentle old soul. Those who only knew him off-duty, could not believe that he was a Police Dog. Those that only knew him on-duty, could not believe he could be a relaxed companion at home. Towards the end of his career, there were some Officers that thought he had lost his touch. We had been in somewhat of a dry spell. For those who don't know, on most occasions when a dog job is unsuccessful, it is due to handler error. I was going through a lot of changes in my personal life then. He was a great listener and never told any of my secrets.
His last year of service was one for the books. He is the only London Police Dog to my knowledge that had successfully tracked murder suspects twice in one year. He received National recognition for one of them by being named Police Dog of the quarter(year) by the United States Police Dog Association, Region 17.
Retirement was tough on him. Argo had grown accustomed to when I picked up my lunch bag at home that it was "Time to Rock". After his retirement there were 2 occasions where after I picked up my lunch bag and headed for my truck, he broke through the door and waited at the back of my truck to be let in. He gained a little weight and was depressed for a while. He then realized he had a new job, to be protector of the house while I was gone. He performed this task diligently to the end. He was not the kind of dog that liked to sleep on the bed. His role was to lay by the door and protect his family. No matter what time I got home, he would greet me to tell me all was good. All he wanted was a pat on the head and a "good boy". He always got that, because he deserved it.
Police Dogs are often forgotten after they leave the job. There is no ceremony, recognition or transition phase. He works his last shift and that's it. The next day his handler goes to wherever he/she has been transferred. The dog stays at home thinking WTF? The handler has to sign a waiver taking on all civil and financial liability and even a fee for transferring the ownership regarding his microchip. Some departments take care of their retired dogs after retirement. Be it licensing, basic vet bills and food. The vet bills for a retired working dog can be substantial considering the wear and tear put on their bodies during their career. Argo was still $50 a year to license as he was still "in tact". I gladly took on this responsibility, but it would still be a nice retirement benefit. He worked hard for the City and me for 6.5 years. Luckily our pool was completed last fall and we had a great early swim season. Argo loved to swim and he undoubtedly had a great summer swimming with family and friends. He deserved to be taken care of in retirement. I was planning on submitting this suggestion regarding our upcoming contract, but in consideration of the current financial climate, I did not.
A week after Argo was put down I received a delivery. It was a nice chocolate gift basket from the Association. I am not sure how they were made aware. But thank you. That same day we went to get Argos remains and cover the outstanding vet payment from our previous visit regarding his prognosis. We were given a nice big blue decorative box which contained a beautifully finished cedar box containing his ashes. We were also given an imprint of his paw from the Gateway. That was a really nice touch.
Our family is moving on with our life, as we must. We all still get the occasional reminder of Argo's presence. We still get teary eyed when we talk about it. Sometimes it is the occasional smell, or the hair ball that mysteriously surfaces from some secret hiding spot. Nala, our other dog, is starting to bounce back as well. A friend told us she was howling for an hour the day after Argo died and we were at work. She missed her Mentor. When we brought Argo's remains home, she sniffed and licked his collar and then ran to the back door to find him. She now knows that she is the protector of our house and family.
Michelle, the kids and I would like to thank all of those who passed on cards, well wishes and support. There are too many to mention. My parents even sent an e-mail from Brazil. As Michelle has said, she has cried more for Argo than for any family member she has lost. She does not understand it, but is just stating a fact. When Olivia's boyfriend Mitch was asked how he was holding up, he said the good-bye was perfect but he was surprised to see 15 tough Police Officers crying. That makes us human in at least one more person's eyes. Mitch took some great video that day that we will always cherish. Thanks for being there Mitch.
A special thanks to the following for being there to make it such a great send off for our Hero. He went out in style!!!!!
Tom Oster, Dave Reid, Travis Wintjes, Gareth Harris, Trevor Pool, Pat Corcoran, Lee Currah, Kelly Ryan, Jean-Guy Veilleux, Derek Spence, Judy Smith, Olivia Smith, Mitchell Oudshoorn, Paul Yovicic, Paul Besley, Jeff Done, Brad Lobsinger.
When you get a moment, say a prayer for those Service Dogs who have passed on, and be good to those who are still in service. They are our protectors, who are willing to give up their lives for you.
The Working Dog
My eyes were your eyes,
To watch and protect you and yours.
My ears were your ears,
To hear and detect evil minds in the dark.
My nose was your nose,
To scent the invader of your domain.
And so you may live,
My life was yours.
We were partners in BLUE.
October 2, 1997 - October 19, 2010
My Best Friend and Partner in Crime
Rest in Peace Buddy
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