Rescue dogs

Ontario Provincial Police search and rescue dogs use their special skills to track the missing

Police dogs have a reputation for taking down dangerous criminals who evade justice, momentarily disabling them until the police arrive, but what many people may not know is that there are several other assistance dogs that assist in other aspects of the daily life of police services.

The Ontario Provincial Police has been using dogs since 1965, when the general service dog, usually a German Shepherd, was introduced to frontline support services.

Since then, the OPP has established numerous service dog positions specializing in aspects such as search and rescue, human remains detection and explosives detection.

Search and rescue dogs begin training between 18 and 24 months and can serve between nine and 11 years depending on their health.

With approximately 26 service dog handlers in the province, 24 of them have both a general service dog and a detection dog.

Stella, a seven-year-old chocolate Labrador, and her handler John King, an Ontario Provincial Police officer who also owns a general service dog, provide search and rescue services in Peterborough County, the city of Kawartha Lakes and Haliburton County.

The duo help find people lost in the wild and other missing people, including those who are disoriented either by a mental illness like Alzheimer’s disease or by hypothermia or heat exhaustion.

“These dogs are trained to about the same standard as our general service dogs, however, there is no element of apprehension for them,” King said.

“Most often we use labs for this role, due to their high dynamism, they are easily trainable, their willingness to work to their training standards, and they have tracking and research capabilities.”

When dogs like Stella are released and locate a missing party, they stay with them and bark to alert their handlers to their success.

Unlike general assistance dogs, search and rescue dogs do not have the role of criminal apprehension that their counterparts have.

“The biggest advantage of this profile in a dog is that there is no fear of contact at the end,” he said.

King notes that search and rescue dogs, although they live with their handlers, are not pets, as they are wired differently.

“We capitalize on that, and we take advantage of their willingness to work, and we use their motivation, so these dogs are very driven and they want to please,” King said.

King adds that a dog like Stella has the ability to search a large area faster than fifteen searchers, and with great success.

Constantly training Stella, King strives to hone her strengths and weaknesses even on the holidays, whether it’s throwing a ball to keep her fetch skills sharp or practicing obedience, she works always onto something, even if it’s disguised as something fun.

“It’s my job to train the dogs and keep them up to date and make sure they can recertify and requalify every year,” he said.

“Every time you exercise them it’s an opportunity to hone something, whether it’s obedience or recall or hunting, we go to a park, and I throw a ball in a wooded area, they looking is fun for them, but it’s also a bit of practice.

King recalls a recent success when he and Stella were called to find a missing mother and child in Minden, who turned around and were later found in a swampy bog at the back of the property after sunset. sun suffering from hypothermia.

Stella found them and started barking, but because of the swamp she couldn’t reach them, King recalled.

“She (the mother) was almost waist-deep in a swampy swamp, holding her three-year-old child, hypothermic, but very happy to see us,” he said.

“It was probably one of the best.”