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EDMONTON POLICE DOG


April 1, 2016
By Clair Seyler

1144 words – MR

WORKING TO SAVE LIVES

Quanto’s Law recognizes the sacrifices of service dogs

by Clair Seyler (with files from )

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Paul Joseph Vukmanich was fleeing police in October 2013 when he repeatedly stabbed and killed Quanto, an Edmonton Police service dog handled by Cst. Matt Williamson. Officers had set the German Shepherd loose after Vukmanich crashed a stolen car and ran.

Vukmanich eventually pleaded guilty to six charges, including animal cruelty and flight from police, and was sentenced to 28 months. Police complained that the strongest criminal charge they could lay was cruelty to an animal.

The federal government promised to introduce a law to protect police animals. A private member’s bill to amend the Criminal Code was brought before the House of Commons and ‘Quanto’s Law’ was passed in the spring of 2015. Anyone convicted of intentionally killing a service animal can now face up to five years in jail.

“The service that our dogs and service animals in general are capable of providing is really remarkable,” said Edmonton Police Canine Unit Acting S/Sgt. Adam Segin. “It’s nice that there’s now this formal recognition of their service and how valuable it is.”

Multiculturalism Minister Tim Uppal joined Edmonton police officers last July to officially mark the enactment of the new law.

“This sends a strong message to anyone who injures or kills a service animal in the line of duty will be met with very serious consequences,” Uppal said. “They’re there to protect us and we should be protecting them.”

At the time he killed Quanto Vukmanich was on parole conditions for a series of taxicab robberies in Thunder Bay. Edmonton police found him driving a stolen vehicle. He refused to stop and when the vehicle lost a tire, fled on foot. A short chase ended with Vukmanich stabbing Quanto numerous times.

The death led to an outpouring of grief and support from across the country and a push to give special protection to working animals. Quanto’s Law includes a mandatory minimum sentence of six months for those convicted of killing a service animal, which includes animals used by police, the Canadian Forces and people with disabilities.

Vukmanich’s lengthy criminal history includes convictions for extortion, threatening, armed robbery, aggravated assault and driving and property offences. He once stabbed a man three times in the chest. Another time, armed with a hatchet, he robbed a cabbie while a woman held a knife against the driver’s throat.

The parole board documents say Vukmanich has a “significant propensity toward violence” when under the influence of alcohol, but also tends to make poor decisions and acts impulsively even when sober.

Edmonton Police Service (EPS) D/Chief Danielle Campbell, the force’s first female dog handler, said Quanto “most definitely” saved the lives of officers at the scene.

{Making a police service dog}

Training a dog and handler team for law enforcement purposes is an in-depth process that takes several years.

To become an EPS handler an officer must express interest and arrange for quarry orientation through the canine unit, then take the canine quarry course. Once completed, the officer is part of the volunteer quarry team while remaining in their current non-canine, full-time position.

{The quarry experience}

The term quarry means anything pursued or hunted, however quarry training involves more than pursuing a criminal. It covers track laying, hiding in buildings and compounds, putting out scented articles for the established dog and handler teams and apprehending criminals.

When quarrying, an officer will wear a 50 lb. protective suit while taking part in any bite-and-grip training exercises. This is where the dogs are trained to latch onto a suspect’s arm and not let go until the suspect obeys the handler’s commands.

After quarry member have dedicated hundreds of hours of their own time to training, they must complete a two-week puppy imprinter course, an obstacle course and final interview before joining the canine unit succession list.

“Becoming a dog handler is definitely a marathon, not a sprint,” says EPS Canine Unit Sgt. Adam Segin.

“It’s a huge commitment. You need to love the environment, have strong character traits, be self-motivated and display a desire to learn.”

On average, 30 quarries are active at any given time. Many people cannot maintain the time commitment required, so only those who quarry regularly over several years make it through to the selection process.

After spending three-and-a-half years quarrying and 18 months training with his dog Evan, Cst. Wade Eastman, a handler since September 2014, sums up his journey so far.

“To be able to work the streets with my own dog has been a huge accomplishment, especially after the time and energy invested leading up to the dog master training course,” explains Eastman. “Evan and I are now out pursuing bad guys together. Just when the suspects think they might get away, my dog gives us a chance to make the arrest. There’s nothing like it.”

{Dog training process}

The EPS selects dogs from a working-dog breeder in Canada or abroad based on their working pedigree and expected work ethic.

Dogs arrive at EPS between the ages of two and 18 months and each is immediately matched with a handler from the succession list.

The handler/dog training process begins immediately. The handler takes their dog home to start working on basic obedience, socialization, bite-and-grip fundamentals and the tracking and development of prey-drive, which is the dog’s willingness to chase and not give up.

While police service dogs (PSD) and handlers train throughout their (approximate) seven-year canine career, the early training process is crucial in determining if the dog will succeed. The canine unit finds a home for any dog that doesn’t seem suited for policing and provides the officer with a new dog.

After 18 months of training, the dog and handler should be well established in obedience, tracking, apprehension and searches. If successful, they proceed to the 16-week dog master training course. If they pass they become an official full-time canine unit member and graduate to the streets of Edmonton.

“An ordinary dog wouldn’t last long in this program,” says Segin. “The successful dogs are extraordinary and have the dedication and work ethic of a very high-quality working dog.

“So what makes a dog extraordinary? It is neutral to environmental exposures such as slippery floors, loud noises, stairs and crowds. The dog’s drive is stronger than its nerves, and the handler is the dog’s whole world.”

Three PSD teams graduated from the dog master training course late in 2015, making a total of 14 dog/handler teams currently operating within EPS. The unit has two teams preparing to start courses in April, including the second female handler in EPS history.

BIO

Photo: Const. Wade Eastman and PSD Evan

Clair J. Seyler is a communications advisor in the EPS Corporate Communications Section. Contact: clair.seyler@edmontonpolice.ca