Parks Canada warden and dog handler to the rescue
June 24, 2022 By Brittani Schroeder
Mike Henderson takes home Blue Line’s 2022 Lifetime in Law Enforcement Achievement Award
Blue Line is proud to present the 2022 Lifetime in Law Enforcement Achievement Award to Mike Henderson of the Parks Canada Warden Service. The award is presented to an individual who has shown exceptional leadership, dedication and passion towards their work in law enforcement for more than 15 years.
Mike Henderson started life in the mountains as a groundskeeper at the Chateau Lake Louise in 1986, looking up at the glaciers of Mt Victoria every day. The idea of Parks Canada protecting those incredible landscapes resonated with him, and after meeting a few Park Wardens in the Lake Louise area, seeing them travelling on horseback, dealing with wildlife and helicopter slinging into rescues, Henderson was hooked. It took a few tries to get hired, but perseverance paid off and Henderson joined the Park Warden Service in 1991.
The first Warden school he attended was the Atlantic Police Academy in P.E.I., and this is where Henderson’s eyes were opened to law enforcement, the Canada National Parks Act and the responsibilities of being a Peace Officer.
Committed to the service
During the first 11 years of his service with the Park Wardens, Henderson acted as a general duty park warden in Banff, Yoho and Jasper National Parks in Alberta; for the past 18 years, he has been a dog handler in Banff National Park.
Parks Canada has been delivering professional K9 services for almost 50 years, working cooperatively with the RCMP National Police Dog Training Centre. “Working outdoors has always been very important to me. It took a long time to become the Parks Canada dog handler, and when it finally happened, all the pieces came together for me,” he said. “Multitasking with a K9 partner and working with small, highly trained teams on serious consequence calls in wild environments made the job unbelievably exiting and satisfying.”
Henderson and his K9s have been instrumental in many law enforcement and visitor safety scenarios. From the regular work of pulling illegal camps of squatters from the woods to wildlife poaching investigations, the K9 teams have been involved in a broad spectrum of Canada National Parks Act enforcement. They broke up illegal commercial picking of Morrell Mushrooms, stopped antler picking operations, patrolled park boundaries for poachers and shut down late night parties. Henderson and his K9 partners have also regularly tracked and searched for lost visitors, returned suicidal visitors to safety and located avalanche victims.
“Mike is wildly regarded and respected by all of us that wear the Park Warden uniform.” – Steve Anderson, Park Warden Supervisor, Banff National Park
The duo has provided vital assistance in countless search and rescue operations. The majority of these search and rescues have been in mountainous terrain such as a perilous, six-day search on the grade five classic Polar Circus in Banff National Park and an inter-agency search and rescue operation on Serra 2 in the Mt. Waddington Range in B.C. “During our search on Polar Circus, there was a lot of objective hazards. We needed to ensure it was safe for us to work in and trust our team completely. Having a dog with us, slinging him in between pitches of ice, it takes the task to a whole different level of difficulty, but it was good for everyone to see that it was actually possible,” said Henderson. There was also a weeklong search operation with Banff Visitor Safety specialists and RCMP to Torngat Mountains National Park in Labrador where he helped search for and found a climbing party in extreme mountainous terrain. These successes pushed the limits and set new standards for dog searches in technical mountainous terrain.
“Honestly, one of the most challenging parts of my job is that the Parks Canada Warden Service is a pretty understated branch of law enforcement, so explaining who I am and why I’m able to arrest people has had it challenges,” he shared. Henderson also relayed that the training and operational cycles of the dog handler position in Banff can be relentless.
Though they don’t have the call volume like many police PDS units, the Park Warden K9 team make up for it in variety and scope of practice. “The cycles of our work and training are seasonal. When the snow flies, we get the dogs thinking about avalanche search. There are winter skills, like ice climbing and avalanche forecasting to maintain, as well as responding to operational calls. Come mid-winter there is Warden block training for use-of-force skills and then you need to start hunting around for green grass for tracking purposes and polishing up your dog’s performance for spring PDS validation. Summer is the season of chaos, and the Parks Canada handler pulls lots of general duty shifts, managing files while trying to keep the dog’s training up and fielding operational dog calls. When fall comes, it’s hunting season and the dog is the force multiplier out there in the field. Then the snow returns, and the cycle starts again.”
Working with the K9s
Henderson, with the help of his K9s, has helped educate the local community, school groups and park visitors through numerous presentations on avalanche awareness and the role of K9s at Parks Canada. He and his K9s showcase their unique skill sets and bring a great deal of awareness to the Law Enforcement Branch, and to Parks Canada as a whole.
As a “General Duty Police Dog” team, Henderson and his K9 partners have regularly provided professional law enforcement assistance to other agencies including Alberta Parks, Alberta Fish and Wildlife, and RCMP in both Alberta and British Columbia. During his career, Henderson and his dogs have pulled more than $2 million in drugs off the streets.
Over the course of his 18 years as a dog handler, Henderson has worked with three dogs. The first was Attila, a police dog who worked for five years and responded to over four hundred calls, including seventy-two avalanches. Next was Atar, who was famous for tracking a lost visitor (who was naked and high on narcotics) through the forest while a grizzly bear was in the area. Finally, Henderson had to opportunity to partner with Cazz, who was unique among law enforcement K9s. “Cazz had a great on-and-off switch, because he could bite hard and track really well, but then he could be the nicest dog with a group of kids. You always have to pay attention to the animal, but he was really stable partner and won everyone’s hearts over,” said Henderson.
Many people don’t realize that the work of a dog handler is not a nine-to-five job—it’s all hours of the day and night. “Henderson put in countless hours of his own time, and that kind of dedication, with three dogs, is really impressive,” shared Marc Ledwidge, a retired Visitor Safety manager with Parks Canada. Ledwidge shared that Henderson was highly motivated and dedicated and the whole team placed a lot of trust in him and his dogs.
Leaving an impact
As a result of their extraordinary and professional response to a call for assistance from the Banff RCMP, Henderson was recognized with the Parks Canada CEO Award for Exemplary Service in 2016. He was also awarded the “Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal” in 2012 for honorable service in military, police, prison, and emergency forces for outstanding achievement and public service. In addition, Mike and Atar were presented a Ceasar Millan inspirational service award.
A welcome recognition
Henderson has dedicated his career to the Warden Service and his K9 partners. “In our most recent form, we are armed and specialize in enforcing the law, be it the Canada National Parks Act, applicable provincial legislation or Criminal Code matters as first responders. Despite our small stature as a law enforcement group, I think we’ve learned to punch above our weight class,” he said.
Henderson was honoured to receive this year’s Lifetime in Law Enforcement Achievement Award. “I want to share this award with all the Park Wardens, law enforcement branch, Parks Canada staff and the police dog training centre staff in Innisfail, Alta., that made this possible. I’m thrilled that the Wardens are gaining some recognition amongst our peers in the Canadian law enforcement community. It feels like we got scouted for the draft into the big leagues!”
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