The Dog Lover Unit: Lessons in Courage from the World's K9 Cops

The Dog Lover Unit: Lessons in Courage from the World's K9 Cops

by Rachel Rose


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250110749
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 10/10/2017
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 1,259,133
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

RACHEL ROSE has won awards for her poetry, fiction, and non-fiction, including a 2014 and 2016 Pushcart Prize, and was named a Governor's General Award finalist in 2016. She is the Poet Laureate of Vancouver for 2014-2017 and was recently a fellow at The University of Iowa’s International Writing Program. She has published work in journals and anthologies in Canada, the U.S., New Zealand and Japan. She lives in Canada. Rachel's books include Marry & Burn and Song & Spectacle.

Read an Excerpt


From Puppy to Police Dog — Drive and Determination

I fly to Calgary in May, and then ride the bus for an hour and a half to Red Deer, the murder capital of Canada. I'm not used to such a flat landscape. It feels too open, too exposed upon the earth. There are no looming mountains, no canyons — just the spring green of the grass, the magpies in their tuxedos scolding from budding trees, strip malls jammed with jacked-up trucks. I pass what I take to be a small mountain of topsoil, but as I roll by I see it is actually snow, dirtied by rocks and grime, still unmelted. Spring will soften Red Deer as best spring can, but this is a hard, open landscape, unfamiliar and unforgiving. The land is so flat that my eyes grow tired of looking for the horizon line.

The next morning, I meet Senior Police Dog Trainer Tom Smith in the lobby of the Sandman Hotel at six thirty a.m. so he can drive us to the kennels. I'm right on time, dressed in hiking boots and jeans, with layers that I can strip off if it gets too hot. Tom Smith is a man of medium build with salt-and-pepper hair. Most of the time, he's soft-spoken and easygoing. It's only when he is telling me some of his past experiences as a K9 cop that a hardness enters his eyes. Tom is not someone to be messed with. Beneath that mellow exterior is a tough and opinionated survivor.

A few months earlier, I spent my first week working with Tom 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 that they continue to meet or exceed standards. Tom tells me that if he can't pass a team, they have a maximum of fifteen remedial training days. If they still are unsuccessful, trainers have to make a decision as to which part of the team is at fault. If the dog is the problem, he will be retired, and the handler will go back to the kennels to be rematched with a new dog. If the handler is the problem, he will be removed from the program and his dog will be reteamed with a new handler. Validation is taken extremely seriously, and it means that dog and handler must stay at the top of their game.

That time with Tom and the teams was a great introduction in learning to read police dogs' body language. I got to see the precise moment when the dogs hit the scent and set off on a scent track, and when they were closing in on their quarry. To me it never got old.

After one of those long days out with Tom, I sat in the kitchen, talking with Isabelle after dinner. Maybe it was just the change of routine, but some of the tension between us had lessened.

"So today Tom was talking about how anxious the new dog handlers get when it's testing time. He said, 'They're always saying, "My dog never did this before, he must be sick, he might have hurt himself over that last fence," one excuse after another. The last one was complaining about his dog's tracking and I said to him, "This is what you should do. You go to your dog, lift up his tail, and kiss his ass, because he's been working great for you all week."'"

Our daughter popped her head into the room, where she'd been quietly eavesdropping. "And did he do it? Did he actually lift up his dog's tail and kiss his ass, Mom?"

How long had it been since we'd laughed together until we had to lean on each other? I couldn't remember the last time.

I know Tom well enough to call him Tom and to ask him any question that pops into my mind, but being in Alberta now, on his home turf, feels different than the time we spent together in British Columbia. For the rest of the week, I will be in the company of Tom, the dogs, and the other police dog handlers of the RCMP.

In Celtic, Innisfail means Isle of Destiny, and this is where every RCMP police dog in Canada (and many that end up as K9s in the United States) is bred, born, and raised. Police dogs for the RCMP used to come from anywhere and everywhere. Some of those dogs worked out wonderfully, but in other cases the results were uneven. Because of the 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 breeding program at the RCMP is carefully monitored at all levels.

Innisfail is where a pup will meet his or her destiny. Few will succeed. Out of all the litters born, many of these purebred German shepherd dogs don't have what it takes. The tests to become a police dog are challenging, and begin when the pups are just seven weeks old. Every new level presents another opportunity to fail.

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 Innisfail, they have already proven both their dedication and their skill. 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 sign up to volunteer as quarries. They raise and imprint young police pups in their homes, passing them on to experienced handlers when the dogs are old enough to work. They do all this in hopes of one day being chosen to go to Innisfail themselves. Most of them never will. Many drop out along the way, as the demands of a police dog on top of life, family, and career become too much, or as they realize that there is no end to this work. There are no guarantees and no rewards but the work itself.

I will be meeting those who have made the cut. This remote training ground in Alberta is the place where the chosen few come to make their dreams a reality. By the end of it, with a little luck and months of hard work, they will earn the right to call themselves police dog handlers.

This is where it all happens. Tom and his wife Roxanne are based in Innisfail, Alberta, but live in Red Deer. As a police dog trainer, Tom spends months away from home, living out of a suitcase in a hotel. Over the years, he has worked with most every dog and handler in the country to make sure they remain capable, competent, and prepared to face whatever comes their way. Roxanne has worked for many years as a 911 dispatcher, so she'd understood better than most what Tom was signing up for when he went to work as a canine cop.

"That must have been nice for you, having your wife really get what your work was like," I said.

"I tell you what, it could be a real pain in the ass," says Tom, grinning. "If she was on call while I was out after a suspect, she'd be checking in on my radio every thirty seconds, requesting my location and coordinates, making sure I was safe."

I laugh. That's one way to keep track of your husband while he's out facing unknown dangers: be his dispatcher. But in fact, the 911 dispatchers can easily be traumatized by what they hear when they are miles away and can't do anything to help. I don't envy Roxanne what she's had to listen to over the years.

Tom continues: "Once you are on a track you don't want to be talking on the radio. It's like, 'Leave us alone, let us get to work.' You don't want to be calling to update them. It's just different when it's your wife and she's worried."

"Do you think she called you more than others?" "No, probably not, they worried about everybody, but it's just you don't need them to call all the time. You're just trying to focus on the track."

We head to Innisfail with a full truck — four new police dog recruits and their dogs. I try to prepare mentally for the long day ahead of me, but short of training for the Ironman, there's no way to be ready. Luckily, I don't know this at the time.

Once we arrive at the kennels, Tom puts me in the very capable hands of another police dog trainer, Eric Stebenne, for the week. Stebenne knows dogs like only a trainer can. He's just the kind of guy you want leading your team, because he wants all his recruits to succeed, and he wants all his dogs to make it, too. He is friendly and patient with any cop who is going through challenges with his dog. Stebenne must be a good decade older than I am, but over the two weeks I spend in Innisfail, I get to know his back and shoulders better than his face, because it's his back end I'm constantly following as I run after him.

These are the things I learn while out with the dog teams: no matter what kind of shape you are in, nothing prepares you for tracking. Running in hiking boots through uneven, boggy pasture, jumping from one clump of grass to another, is tough work. You may think toxic mosquito repellant should be banned until you've run through the clouds of mosquitoes in Alberta. After that, you will happily spray yourself until you gleam all over and green poison drips from your earlobes like shiny earrings.

I know the handlers work much harder than I do. They have to circle around for the scent, not taking any shortcuts, keeping up with their dogs the whole time (but, on the other hand, the dogs pull them along). They have to make the decision to crawl after their dogs under barbed wire fences, or to heave their dogs over the fences and then follow, but whatever their dog does, 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 concentrically growing circles until they find their trail again. At all times, handlers have to be reading their dogs' behavior, trusting them, but also thinking ahead.

All I have to do is follow Stebenne's backside, but this is almost more than I can do. My knee twinges in pain, the screws holding the bone together protesting long and loud, but I know one of the handlers, Kent MacInnis, is running with all kinds of hardware in his body. Kent MacInnis's dog was killed, and he nearly died in a terrible car accident; he's here to be matched with a new dog. I grit my teeth and push on.

After three tracks, though, 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. A fug of sweat and mosquito repellant drips down my face as I struggle to speak.

"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, containing gun, flashlight, 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 twenty-four pounds pulling me down. But I like the feeling of the harness cutting into my hips above my jeans.

What would I do with a Taser, a gun, and a heavy flashlight? I have no business wearing these things, but I like knowing what it feels like to carry this weight. It feels heavy, but good.

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

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 police dogs' body language, how to tell when a dog is aimlessly searching, and that sweet moment when he hits the scent and becomes totally focused. I learn how it feels to pee in a ditch in a landscape so flat there is no shelter, while six male cops pretend not to look in my direction. I learn how to keep going and keep going. I fall into bed at the end of every day dog tired.

At one point, I've stayed behind with a couple of guys while Stebenne and two other handlers lay a track. This involves planning a route that the quarry will take to really challenge the dogs, a route that crisscrosses roads and fences and ditches of still water. I'm happy to be sitting this one out. From far off I hear a sound like thunder. Dozens of horses gallop over a ridge, coming to see what we're doing here. They run to the fence and I can't help myself. I grew up with horses, love horses — I crawl under the barbed wire and try to meet them, holding new grass in my hands. But this herd of beauties is shy, or uninterested; they watch me but don't let me get close enough to touch. The guys wait for me, good-natured, but I know I'm holding them up, following the horses. Reluctantly I crawl back under the fence again.

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 at Innisfail couldn't operate without them. Physically, they couldn't look more different. Louise Falk is a trim, even-featured young woman with a blond bob. Louise Paquet is a solid, comfortable older woman, well weathered and talkative. But both the Louises know dogs like nobody's business. Both of them have dedicated their lives to raising and training police dogs.

It goes without saying that Louise Paquet loves dogs, but she lets me know it anyway. "My oldest boy found this mutt. We named him Jesus Murphy. I have Thea and Deenna 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.

While I was in Alberta, I visited the rural home of John and Sue Charles, who have been providing a foster home for RCMP mother dogs since 2000. John and Sue are salt of the earth people, friendly and welcoming. They call themselves brood keepers. While the RCMP pays them to care for the mother dogs, they clearly consider it an honor. The dog I meet who lives with them, Dea, is a big, restless female. Dea remains in nearly constant motion for the duration of our visit. Sue tells me that she had Dea's grandmother and Dea's mother as well. As we talk, Dea runs laps around the property, patrolling but also running for the pure joy of it, bounding up to meet us and to greet her foster parents, then bounding away. I'm glad that Dea spends most of her life here with John and Sue, who obviously adore her, glad that she lives in a place where she has room to run.

The mothers like Dea are not pets, but neither are they police service dogs. They perform an essential service, though. Five days before a brood dog is due to whelp, 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 tough job, especially if she has a big litter of twelve or thirteen pups. By the time a mother dog like Dea's been on full-time puppy duty for six or eight weeks, she is more than ready to wean and go back to her foster family.

Louise tells me that she makes sure the mothers get their rest and recreation, even at the kennels, even with a new litter of puppies. Every day, she lets the mothers at the kennels out to run, under supervision. "Rain or shine, those dogs get to run," she says.

As I follow Louise Paquet through the kennels, some of the brood mothers stand outside, leaving their pups in the brood boxes in which they were whelped. I watch the mothers sniff the spring air, basking in the thin May sunshine for a few moments, before they return with a sigh to their whimpering puppies. I feel for these long-suffering bitches; who wouldn't be ready to wean, to get out of the kennel and back to the farms and their foster families, especially when part of your duty as den mother includes licking bottoms so the little ones defecate in your mouth, not in the den?

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. They are each marked with a dab of nail polish on their rumps or their necks to identify their gender.

At fifteen days, the pups are started on a socialization regimen that involves removing them from the nest and getting the pads of their little paws used to feeling a variety of surfaces underfoot. Every dog's features are distinct, if you look closely enough and get to know them well enough. Still, with the limited contact I have, it is almost impossible for me to keep track of them or tell the dogs apart.

When I walk the rows of kennels where the 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, anything. Their kennels are two little rooms with bare cement floors, open to the outside, easy to hose down and clean, but neither cozy nor stimulating. It is here, when the dogs are housed between assignments, that I pity them the most. No animal wants to live like that. I wish they didn't have to. But these animals are not pets; they are soldiers. They live in barracks as devoid of color or comfort as any army post.

By some whim of fate, we each are born into our stations in life, and dogs are no exception. Helpless puppies may be born in a trash heap in Guatemala, or a breeder's pen in Palo Alto. They may roam the streets of Taipei, dying an early death of rabies, or follow a homeless man through Brooklyn as he pushes his shopping cart to the doorway they'll share for the night, an outlaw pack of two. They may be kept in the purse of a movie star in Beverly Hills, or become the playmate for an autistic boy. The odds are likely that most dogs in this beautiful, broken world will have a rough go of it. Even in developed countries, one trip to a shelter, where rows of dogs await possible adoption or probable death, is enough to break your heart.


Excerpted from "The Dog Lover Unit"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Rachel Rose.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Prologue 1

1 From Puppy to Police Dog-Drive and Determination 9

2 Situational Awareness and Public Perception 36

3 Outlaws and Outliers 87

4 The Thrill of the Chase, the Whim of Destiny 111

5 Chrisa-The Dog No One Wanted 175

6 Police Dog Families-Women in Policing 189

7 Grave Threats 230

8 Bonds from beyond the Grave 268

Epilogue 290

Note to Readers 315

Acknowledgments 317

Notes 321

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