In dog we trust
Last month, Police lost one of its four-legged own when police dog Gazza was killed in the line of duty during an incident in Porirua when an officer was also injured. When police dogs are injured or killed, the whole country responds. The loss is felt deeply, not only by the dog section, but also the Police Dog Trust, which helps fund the breeding and training of our heroic police dogs. Heather McDonald reports on the trust’s vision for the future.
When police dog Gage was killed on duty in Christchurch in 2010, there was an outpouring of public support. Police were inundated with people asking where they could donate money. The Christchurch Press newspaper ran a campaign to encourage donations to the little-known Police Dog Trust and raised $17,000.
The death of Gage helped highlight the work of the trust, which at that time had a surprisingly low profile.
“When we lose a police dog, it has a very high public profile and the natural response from the public is ‘What can we do to help?’ ” says trust chairman Inspector Todd Southall, National Co-ordinator: Police Dogs (pictured). “They try to send in dog food, but often it is something we can’t use. So what we say is, if you want to donate, donate to the trust.”
The charitable trust was set up in 2005 with an $180,000 bequest from the late Shirley Ellwood who had worked for Rotorua Police and loved the dog section. Her niece, Christine Oliver, is one of five trustees.
Shirley’s wishes were that the funds be used for the acquisition of dogs, training of dogs and handlers, improving police dog bloodlines and promoting study, research and educational programmes.
Since Todd became chairman of the trust a year ago, he has been on a mission to improve the funding base and boost the breeding programme. When he started, he says, the trust did little to promote itself, so he resolved to make it more proactive, while still ensuring that Shirley’s wishes are attended to and that the dog section gets full benefit out of the trust.
“Since the trust’s inception, we’ve had handlers travel all over the world, to the States, UK and Australia. We’ve imported dogs from the Netherlands, England and Australia to improve our genetic bloodlines. We’ve had our breeding services manager attend a working dog breeding conference in France. That’s all been funded by the trust,” Todd says.
The next step, in terms of visibility, has been creating an online presence with a new website and Facebook page. The policedogtrust.co.nz website also enables donations through an online payment system. Popular products, such as the police dog soft toy given to Prince George when he visited the Police College in 2014, can be bought through the site and branded clothing is in the pipeline. All profits go directly to the trust.
Understandably, photos of puppies on Facebook generate good publicity. “We’re also mindful that if anything happens in the police dog section we can put updates on there as well. It’s also about keeping the public informed on the police dog section as a whole.”
After the death of police dog Gazza last month, shot during a stand-off with an armed offender in Porirua, the trust used its Facebook page to provide information and as a forum for public reaction to the incident.
Above: Eight-week old puppies from the "G" litter at the police dog training centre.
Police photographers across the country are working on the trust’s latest project – a 2017 police dog calendar – hoping that their photos will be included. Todd says the calendar, which will be available from October and is expected to be a hot item for Christmas, will be the first of many, providing a steady source of income.
“I’m excited to see where we’re at in 12 months’ time. That will dictate to the trustees how we can spend that money. We’ve got a few ideas – one is having staff work with other agencies.”
Todd is very keen for the Police Dog Training Centre in Trentham to develop a detector dog breeding programme. “We have a critical shortage of detector dogs in New Zealand. That’s not just Police, that’s across all the government agencies – Aviation Security, Customs, Corrections and MPI.”
Most detector dogs currently come from charities such as the SPCA or Huha and, as much as the training centre and other agencies are grateful for them, the dogs can come with problems.
The Australian Border Force supplies Labradors to some other agencies in New Zealand, and Police has signed an agreement to get some Labrador breeding stock for a small breeding programme, with multiagency input.
However, a full detector dog breeding programme would require an increase in the facilities and funding at Trentham, which is being considered.
Another initiative Todd is considering is an exchange programme with Australian police dog handlers. “It might be that we send one of our handlers to Australia to assist on a course over there. We get some skills and knowledge and experience; they learn from us and we learn from them. We want interoperability with the Australians so if we are deployed over there, or vice versa, we are pretty much on the same page.”
The breeding programme
The New Zealand police dog breeding programme has an excellent international reputation and more than 700 puppies have been born at Trentham over the past 15 years. About 90 per cent of our German shepherd stock is bred there, compared with about 10 per cent when the programme started.
Only 55 to 60 per cent of each litter will become operational police dogs. Litters are produced to demand, but they don’t always go to plan as the dogs must reach certain standards to become operational. Last year the dog centre had several litters of just one and two puppies, but this year they’ve had a great start, with 30 puppies born in the first three litters of the year. In a typical year, 50 to 60 puppies will be born.
It costs Police about $50,000 to raise and train a police dog.
“We are only just meeting demand,” Todd says. “That’s why we are pushing to increase our facilities here. They’re a bit dated and we need to move with the times.”
Having visited the Australian Border Force’s new A$35 million facility, Todd has seen what could be done to improve the facilities at Trentham.
Technology is already playing a part in smoother operations at the dog training centre and further afield. Cameras are set up in the whelping unit, providing a live feed so the breeding services staff can monitor birthing remotely on mobile phones and call a vet if complications arise, rather than staying on the premises overnight.
Above: A monitoring screen in the whelping unit shows a live feed of Gypsy and her four-day old "K" litter pups.
When police dog Thames went missing in the Tararua Ranges last year, the incident caused a few headaches for police, but Thames was found and positive outcome was that all search and rescue dogs now carry GPS units.
When Thames was lost, it was also yet another example of the high public interest in the dog section. “No matter how long you’ve been in the dog section, it is staggering sometimes the amount of interest when something happens to our dogs. But it is New Zealand, we’re a dog-loving country, and we get it.”
Connect with the Police Dog Trust
If you are interested in fostering, email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
Testing times for young pups
Testing begins at a young age for police puppies. They are put through their paces at seven weeks’ old to look for early signs of confidence and other desirable behavioural traits, such as a high hunt drive, good nerves and temperament and environmental soundness – all indicators of a potentially successful police dog.
When Police News visited the National Dog Training Centre last month, puppies from the “I” litter were being tested in a specially setup room. Each puppy was put in a room with Breeding Services staff member Alison Munn and given a series of tasks designed to test their natural reactions – for example, hearing a loud noise, picking up a scrunched-up piece of paper, and playing tug of war. Then it was on to the obstacle room where they had to make their way out through a maze of low walls and shiny surfaces designed to distract and intimidate them. Puppies displayed a range of behaviours, varying from shying away from the person to playing tug of war with vigour.
Breeding Services manager Scott Bruce said bold puppies would be placed in foster homes with firm boundaries, while shy ones needed to be encouraged to build confidence.
Above: Breeding Services staff member Alison Munn with puppy Iva during his testing.