The brutal attack and murder of a popular teenager in a park last fall left the community of North Delta, BC reeling and in fear. In the days that followed 15 year old Laura Szendrei's death Caber, the victim services K9, was introduced to many in the community. At one gathering, a third of the 250 grief stricken citizens of all ages and cultures spontaneously broke into tears upon seeing him for the first time.
Caber circulated among the small groups in the gathering, held in the gymnasium of Szendrei's school, and was calming to everyone. His presence brought comfort and some peace.
The school asked the handler to bring Caber to the school again for the first day back to class, this time to go to Laura's classes in her absence. Caber and his handler sat by Laura's desk throughout the day. The students were able to hug him, recall memories of their friend and share their grief.
• A large fire severely damaged a local family's home, killing their dog and causing great distress to the male victim, who was home at the time. He was receptive to meeting Caber and, before his arrival, kept asking, "Is Caber here yet?" When the dog arrived he enveloped him in a hug and said, "This is exactly what I needed."
• An adult male experienced great anxiety after a serious attack and subsequent brain injury. He calmed down immediately in the presence of Caber, who sat in front of him and put his head in his lap. The client began petting his ears and his anxiety was subsequently defused; he could speak more calmly and was able to communicate more effectively.
Caber is a three-year old yellow Labrador Retriever used by the Delta Police Department (DPD) and lives with Kim Gramlich, his handler and "mom". Gramlich has been the coordinator of Delta Police Victim Services for the last 10 years and has served crime victims for more than 15 years.
Gramlich learned about victim service in a workshop at the National Organization for Victims Assistance conference in Scottsdale, Arizona. She learned how the Scottsdale Police Crisis Response K9 impacted people in their grief and pain and decided to develop a plan to introduce the program in Delta.
Delta is in the extreme south-west corner of British Columbia. The DPD has 166 sworn officers and 90 civilians serving more than 100,000 people in the communities of Tsawwassen, Ladner and North Delta. The victim services department has three civilian staff and 20 volunteers.
"The introduction of a compassion dog to our victim services program has been a tremendous asset to our police department," Chief Constable Jim Cessford noted. "Staff have utilized Caber on several occasions and he has provided comfort and care to many people who have been victimized by crime and trauma. Caber is an excellent resource."
Caber was named after the "caber toss," a Scottish Highland sport (his litter were all given Scottish names). Cessford fondly recalls watching Caber jump up and run directly to the piper upon hearing the bagpipes for the first time. The piper, from the Delta Police Pipe Band, had never seen a dog respond so favourably. Cessford, a Scotsman himself, understands the familiar feeling of being drawn to the sound.
A canine assisted "intervention" dog, Caber was generously provided to the program by the Pacific Assistance Dog Society (PADS), a charitable, non-profit organization that provides dogs to people facing the daily challenges of life with a physical disability. Highly skilled, they allow clients to experience a greater level of independence and an enhanced quality of life. They are also often utilized in institutional settings such as hospitals, seniors and hospice facilities and have been successful in that work for years.
PADS breeds, trains and retains ownership of all dogs it places in intervention and service capacities until the dog's "retirement." Retaining ownership is important so PADS can get the dog back if it is ever misused or abused; this also keeps the dog handlers and PADS staff well connected for support and assistance.
Caber is the first trauma K9 in a Canadian victim services setting. He is extremely docile and very endearing and affectionate.
Caber began his official training at just eight weeks old in the puppy education program, then ventured out in the world to live with his puppy raiser in Calgary until returning to PADS for advanced training. He remained there until just after his second birthday when he visited Delta police to see if he was right for victim services.
PADS training staff exposed him to the chaos of police cars, lights and loud noises. He did little more than tilt his head to the side when a car with a loud siren and revving engine pulled up beside him. He traversed through the police building and was calm and comfortable with everyone, in every setting. Even loud crying and intense emotion didn't phase him.
Like all PADS dogs, Caber began his training with the possibility of becoming a service dog for a person with a disability. Staff felt his calm demeanour was better suited for intervention work. Today he responds to approximately 25 commands and his handler is "clicker training" him on fun new commands all the time. He will even smile on command!
Three victim services staff members took a week of training to learn a variety of topics, including canine psychology, canine health and grooming, public etiquette, dog command structure and corrections. This qualifies them to deploy Caber safely and effectively.
With team training completed, a 45-day assessment period began to determine if Caber was adapting to his new home and workplace and if the handlers were managing him effectively. During this period he was sent to support victims and families at incidents which included sudden deaths, suicides, a fatal motor vehicle crash and house and apartment fires. Caber proved to be highly effective with these victims, with two clients saying that he "is exactly what I needed."
Case in point, a female domestic violence victim arrived at the Delta Police Department looking for help for herself and her children after deciding to leave her common-law spouse. After talking for some time she became quite emotional. When she began to cry, Caber got up from where he was playing with her child, approached and laid his head in her lap. She was incredibly touched by the fact that he reached out to her. "He just knows," she said.
In another example, an extremely difficult client was proving to be very challenging. He wasn't receptive to assistance and criticized anyone attempting to help, including police. Through his contact with Caber he became more receptive. The first thing he now asks staff and police is if Caber is available. When the dog is there, he calms down and accepts support and help.
"The impact of Caber's empathy for Delta's victims of crime and trauma has proven to be exceptional," said Gramlich. "We look forward to deploying him in many other situations to determine how else he can positively influence the lives of our citizens. Dogs aren't judgmental. They don't see your religion, race, age or sexual orientation. They are unbiased and unconditional in their support. Caber brings out the best in all of us."