By Brian Roulston
The first known use of police dogs to police the community in Ontario was in Hamilton in 1878 when officers took in an old stray dog named “Bob”.
Dogs have been used in some form of law enforcement since the middle ages but it was in Continental Europe that they were used on a large scale. Police in Paris, France began using dogs to target roaming criminal gangs at night. Bloodhounds were used in Scotland and were called “Slough Dogs” which is where the word “Sleuth” originated, meaning ‘Detective’.
The first real attempt to use dogs was by Sir Charles Warren in 1869, then the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Dept. of London England who was given the task of identifying and capturing Jack the Ripper. However, his attempts were futile at best. He was ridiculed by the press for failing to apprehend Jack the Ripper with his dogs, even denounced for not using bloodhounds. He then trained two bloodhounds as a test to simply track a suspect. That too ended in disaster with one hound biting a police officer and then another time with both dogs running off into the woods requiring the entire police department to go look for them.
It was in Ghent Belgium that the worlds first Dog Training school was introduced along with an organized police dog training program in 1899. Both Austria-Hungary and Germany soon followed using these methods where they were systematically bred and trained in obedience, tracking and attacking criminals with much better results.
One of the Yukon’s greatest tragedies known as’ The Lost Patrol’ occurred when a mail patrol led by Francis Joseph Fitzgerald the first commander of the Royal North West Mounted Police leading a dog sled mail patrol from Fort McPherson southward to Dawson City which never showed up. The first dog sled team search party was sent from Dawson City led by Inspector William John Duncan. Sadly, the bodies of Fitzgerald and the other members of the team were soon found. After regular patrols by the Royal Northwest Mounted Police, later the RCMP were conducted to help lost or injured sled team members or trouble along that route. The last patrol being March 11,1969.
In 1922 the RCMP acquired seven bloodhounds spread out in Lethbridge, Calgary, Red Deer, Edmonton,Peace River and Grande Prairie Alberta. The dogs performed well beyond the expectation of their usefulness in both tracking criminals and lost people.
In Hamilton “Bob” was routinely brought on night patrol by Police Constable Ferris. Bob was not a specially trained dog in anyway, but he did act as a deterrent to those who wanted to cause trouble and was good for dispersing groups and crowd control.
On July 1st 1960 upon the recommendation of Police Chief Leanard G. Lawrence, the Hamilton Police Force started the second ‘formal’ K-9 unit in Ontario and were generously given two beautiful and intelligent German Sheppard’s by two citizens of Hamilton. One named “Sandy” was given by Mr. & Mrs Oglivie and handled by Police Sargent John Brabbs, the other, “King” was given by a young eight year old boy, Johnny Newcombe and was handled by Police Constable Richard Griffiths. The dogs lived with their handlers and received specialized training by Henry Alferink a retired 30 year police veteran in Holland who spent his last 11 years training police dogs.
The dogs along with their handlers would take classes twice a week along with daily drills to help keep them sharp and in top physical condition. With a word or a gesture they were taught, among other things to find and fetch items such as keys, wallets, tools and guns. Because of the dogs keen sense of smell they out-classed their human colleagues in finding missing persons and criminals. When approaching a lost child they were trained to sit and bark until their handlers showed up. In the first 6 months of their trial period they were instrumental in the arrests of prowlers, burglars and even careless drivers.
As of June 2014 the Hamilton Police K-9 unit comprised of 4 officers and 4 German Sheppard dogs(German Sheppard’s are used because of their strength , intelligence, fierce loyalty and even temperament.) The dogs are named Scout, Jake, Armour and Maverick. Both dog and officer are subjected to a provincially mandated 16 week certification program once the dog reaches a year old. The dog and the officer will stay together for life and they go home together. .A healthy dog will stay in the service for 5 to 8 yrs. When the dog retires from the K-9 Unit, so does the officer giving another officer a crack at the unit.
Today ,the dogs are trained to look for not only lost children but Alzheimer patients who may have wandered off. Sniff out clues to crimes, firearms, drugs , currency and explosives.
Sadly, the job doesn’t come without risk. On February 25, 1992 the Hamilton canine unit had one K-9 named “Troy “killed in the line of duty when a suspect who was cornered and fired on him.