General Duties Dog Service – St. John’s< Newfoundland
Welcome to the far east of Canada and where I experienced another unique culture of Canada. This is where Newfoundland and North America begins. Where the sun shines first, at Cape Spear Lighthouse just a few kilometers outside the historic, yet contemporary, capital city of St John’s. The Avalon Peninsula and the eastern portion of Newfoundland was my area of responsibility for police dog services. It was a large area of difficult terrain. It is not only scenically stunning, but it’s also a place full of natural wonders: icebergs drifting along coastlines, groups of whales frolicking, migratory seabirds nesting on cliffs, and caribou roaming.
As the oldest region to be settled, the Avalon is full of the legends, lore, and history of the early adventurers who first laid claim to the New World. It’s home to bustling urban centers such as St. John’s, a city perched on the edge of nature, surrounded by scenic beauty and wildlife. It is a land of firsts. It was here Marconi ushered in the modern era of long-distance wireless communications by receiving the first transatlantic signal atop Signal Hill in 1901. And, of course, it was here the oldest city in North America, St John’s was founded.
It is where my twins were also born. This was a place full of beauty, cultural depth and the rugged drama of a seafaring peninsula that has weathered trials, triumphs and everything in-between. It had towns with funny names like Come by Chance, Dildo, Placentia, and others. Check out the google map to see the area and towns: NFLD Map
It was a challenging place to undertake police service dog duties as it was rough terrain to handle when tracking fugitives or chasing escaped prisoners. It was a tough land where people enjoyed drinking and fighting as a pass time – and often the police were fair game for their fun.
I was attached to the St John’s Detachment and provided dog services to all the detachments in the Avalon Peninsula and eastern portion of Newfoundland including Bell Island. Being on-call 24 hours a day was the way this role operated. While you had a roster and were on shift there was always after hours calls for assistance and support that involved a wide range of activities such as tracking, searching, back-ups for risk situations and community relations. Here are a few of the cases I was involved with:
Break, Enter and Theft – these calls were frequent. Either in the morning after a reported crime or during the night when a crime was in progress. This was another requirement usually for tracking but occasionally it was a search of business premises or warehouses for suspects. A number of these calls resulted in tracks that often lead to a dead-end where a getaway vehicle had been parked. At other times a fresh trail would be struck and culprits would be apprehended for court prosecution. Searches of premises on occasion were also successful with finds of hidden suspects that had been caught in the act. These successes were the reward for all the training and hard work that goes into developing a working police dog.
Prison escapes – there was a youth detention facility in Whitbourne and a Prison in St John’s and a few times there were escapes. I recall one particular event that required my assistance to attempt to track down three escapees from the Prison that were considered dangerous as they were serving time for armed robbery. They had been on the run by the time I arrived. I picked up the scent and followed the trail for some distance and 3 hours after their breakout they were recaptured. There was a struggle at the end and dog bites occurred as they were flushed out of the woods in Pippy Park, near Confederation building and taken into custody. During their initial court appearance, one of the escapee’s complained bitterly to the judge that more than his pants had been torn by the police dog that had aided in his arrest. The matter was not perused by the courts.
On another occasion, I was required to search for two escaped juveniles. The track of their escape was easily picked up in the boggy surrounds of the prison and the dog was off – pulling heavily into the tracking harness with a strong scent easily detected. It was rugged terrain we had to cross, boggy marshes that often gave way under my weight and I would be into a wet swamp, through forests, across roads and on and on we went. My support during the track had long given up and I was on my own. I recall that it was something like 47 kilometers in total and it had become dark by the time I tracked the two escapes down. It was the longest track I believe I had every conducted but it was a successful one.
Impaired drivers – this was a common occurrence for patrols to attempt to stop an impaired driver that resulted in a pursuit. The offender would often alight from a vehicle and head into the dense wooded areas or bogs in the dead of night in an attempt to avoid prosecution. I would receive a call to track the suspect – being woken from a sound sleep to head out into the cold night air was not always the most fun. I often would need to drive for an hour or more to reach the incident scene.
In the still of the night, the suspects often didn’t go too far into the woods for fear of getting lost or the difficulty in traversing the dark woods. The dog was fantastic at picking up the track and following it and in most cases to a waiting suspect huddling in the cold and dark in winter or the warm and mosquito-infested woods in summer. An arrest would be made and they would be returned to the waiting police at the roadside. On occasion, there would be some resistance but after support from the dog, an arrest the suspect would be handcuffed. It can be very eerie moving through a darkened forest in the dead of night – not to mention the risk of injury while running after the dog in pursuit from unforeseen branches, fallen trees and rocks.
Lost persons – we were often called upon to assist for lost persons, elderly, hunters or day trippers that had gotten lost in the bush. I recall one event where our day-long search resulted in the location of a lost person. It was so rewarding to have found them and to have helped them back to safety.
Bell Island night chopper flight – I recall one dark night I had a call for assistance on Bell Island, a small settlement located near to St John’s but the only urgent access was by helicopter – the day ferry was no longer operating. I made my way to the police air wing facilities at the International airport and met up with the sole pilot for the night venture. He assured me that his skill would get us across the icy cold waters off Newfoundland. It was a stormy night as I remember with wind and snow, but apparently, it was suitable enough to fly the short distance.
I can’t say I was overly assured, however, off we went, and after a somewhat bumpy ride across we did arrive successfully and I was met by the local detachment and taken to the scene where I was required to support the search and arrest of the fugitive. The matter was resolved with the aid of the police dog and we eventually made our way back to the airport. I had a few occasions where the use of the police helicopter to access remote areas or areas in a timely manner were required. It was always thrilling for daylight rides when you could get a fantastic view of the countryside.
The area of coverage was very large with numerous detachments that could call on your services. I eventually got to the point that I feared the phone when it rang in the event it meant a call and a long drive to get to a crime scene usually at night or on days off. One community activity that I was part of was the commencement of the Terry Fox Marathon of Hope when it began from the most easterly point of Canada. I saw him commence his journey to raise funds for cancer but I was then unfortunately at his hometown of Cocquitlam when he was buried there after he died from cancer.
To ensure the police dog was competent with skill levels at the required standard we often carried out retraining on an annual or semi-annual basis. When in Newfoundland I attended one such Refresher course at Debert, Novia Scotia 1980 with Bob M, Lands and Forest and Max R from Moncton NB Police Department. Here we would spend a week being put through our paces in tracking, searching for a wide range of persons and items, arrest and aggression control, obedience and agility. These were to ensure we had kept our dogs in top shape and skills sharp. These were enjoyable times where we got to catch up with other like-minded handlers to share stories and tips on working our dogs.
One of the fun parts of the role was to provide talks and demonstrations of the dogs’ capabilities. These took place at schools, special events and activities in various communities as requested by local detachments. It was always satisfying to see people’s reaction to dog demonstrations and discussions.
Eventually, it was time for a move as there was an opening for a dog handler in the city of Coquitlam in British Columbia – from bush work to city work, a big change.
General Duties – Coquitlam, British Columbia
So having moved to the other side of the country to take up police dog service duties things were similar but different. Coquitlam, now with a population of about 130,000, is a city in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia is the sixth-largest city in the province and is one of the 21 municipalities comprising Metro Vancouver.
The jurisdiction was a lot more confined to the city and not the expansive rural areas I was used to, however, there were numerous parks and provincial parks in the area. This was somewhat of a blessing and work was generally confined to my assigned shifts. Out of hours, call outs were rare. Work in the city used the same expertise of the dog but the terrain was much harder to negotiate. Tracking in the bush is different to tracking in suburban areas with concrete and many distractions. There were some rural areas in the district but the majority of requirements were in suburban or industrial/commercial environments. Shifts consisted of looking after the dog, training, patrol work and incident response.
The vast majority of the calls depending on the shift were for noisy house parties, break and enters, thefts & robberies, abandoned pursuits and some demonstration and riot work. A few things stick out in my mind from these days. I remember one night tracking an individual who had run from a break and enter when confronted. The dog was hot on his scent as we maneuvered through streets, across lawns and over fences in the backyards of houses. We were gaining on this guy until all of a sudden in the darkness my fast running was abruptly halted when I was struck in the throat with a metal clothesline that I had not seen. Down I went in extreme pain barely able to breathe and almost knocked out. That was the end of the pursuit while I regained my ability to function – boy did that hurt.
On another occasion, we were called to assist another city detachment nearby with a large crowd that had gotten out of control and was causing public damage. A number of dog units from the area were called along with a riot squad and numerous uniformed officers. As we assembled and marched toward the group who had been told to disperse they became very loud, aggressive and throwing many projectiles. As the riot formation neared the group the officers parted to allow the multiple dog units to run forward to confront the group. With the site of many aggressive German Shepard’s the crowd split up and ran away. This provided the necessary tactic to disperse the crowd and allow for easier arrests and control. It was a long night with much public damage and some injuries. The media were not kind the following day in regards to the tactics but it had eliminated the considerable use of force and injuries.
Another unique event that I had not encountered before was the propensity for large house parties by young teenagers that would get out of control. Typically a smaller group would arrange a party and invite some friends. The word would spread and many uninvited people would crash the party and often, after getting drunk, cause trouble, fight and damage the hosts’ house. We often got calls to these parties by the homeowners or neighbors to stop the noise and return the streets to normality. These events could easily get out of control with damage to police vehicles, police officers and others as the crowds often turned violent.
The police dog was always called to these incidents for back up and to assist with crowd control. I can fondly remember walking through lovely homes in the leafy suburbs that had been trashed by drunken, uninvited teenagers with my dog and closing down these events. Without the dog, there would be lots of push back and abuse but with the dog, there was always good compliance. A few of these parties could easily have 200 people causing a mini-riot. I was always amazed at how parents, often not in attendance, could have allowed such events to take place at their homes without their supervision.
Patrols and vehicle stops for routine checks were made much easier with Dutch as my partner. I often pulled over vehicles with groups in them by myself for traffic violations knowing that with Dutch we would be in control. He would wait in the car, always watching me for any signal that I needed his support. The window would be done and he would easily jump out the window to be by my side if called. And he was, on a few occasions, called to action when drivers or their passengers wanted to have a go at the cop that pulled them over, particularly late at night on darkened streets. He was the best back up you could have and we enjoyed a wonderful working life together.
Community relations required talks at schools and other events from time to time. These were enjoyable activities and a chance to showcase the police dog and our work. This city was the home of Terry Fox the cross-country cancer runner who died. I was standing in uniform at the entrance to the cemetery as his funeral procession arrived. I had seen him start his journey in Newfoundland and now I was seeing him laid to rest. It was a reminder of the human frailty of life.
The life of policing in the streets and working late into the night on weekends with a small family was taking its toll and after 6 years of working a police dog, it was time to consider other career options. My parents were not in good health and return to Ontario to be closer to them in their final years was now the plan. It would also allow for a different way of life for the family.
My dog was to be bonded with a new handler and undergo training again to continue his working life. It was very heartbreaking to have to give up on the partnership with your best K9 friend.