Blue Line

Tavistock K9 handler and police community say goodbye to Taz

August 3, 2023  By Lee Griffi, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Aug. 3, 2023, Tavistock, Ont. – Hundreds of police officers along with over 100 K9s and their handlers converged on Woodstock Tuesday to say goodbye to Police Service Dog (PSD) Taz, who died in the line of duty.

The dog, a K9 with the Woodstock Police Service, responded to a call to help the Stratford Police with a drug-related investigation on July 3. While conducting a search, Taz and another dog, PSD Striker, both ingested drugs. Narcan was administered, and they were rushed to a veterinarian clinic. Taz did not survive while Striker was released and went home shortly after.

Police and dogs from across Ontario, including York Regional, Halton, Saugeen Shores, Waterloo Regional, Brantford, Toronto, Sault Ste. Marie, London, OPP, and others, along with local emergency services, all took part in a procession and full police funeral at the Reeves Community Complex to pay tribute to their fallen comrade. A private police funeral took place inside the facility on the arena floor.

Grant Rieder is an Innerkip resident and volunteer firefighter in the East Zorra-Tavistock community who attended Tuesday’s funeral. In his previous life, he was a K9 officer and sergeant with the Waterloo Regional Police Service. Rieder had extensive experience as both a handler and trainer for other officers, including Taz’s handler Dan Skillings, a Tavistock resident. “I trained seven police services, including a few from Woodstock, and trained Dan with his first dog, Striker. When I retired, I went to the Ministry of Natural Resources for six years, where I was in charge of their K9 program.”

Rieder, who has lived most of his life in Oxford County, said he feels for what Skillings is going through. “It’s a terrible thing to lose your dog in the line of duty. We have brought a number of dogs into the vets over the years, and I know what they did to try and save Taz. His work ethic really cost him his life. Like what was said at the funeral, the dog was a phenomenal tracker, which means he has a really deep nose. He just inhaled enough of it that he couldn’t be brought back.” Rieder has had seven service dogs over his thirty-plus-year career and said handlers get to know and trust their partner intimately. “It’s just incredible the bond that is developed. I have had so many dogs, and I know Dan has too with his. You’re looking for somebody in the dark, and you can’t see him, but you know he’s there because your dog is telling you.”

It is difficult to understand what Skillings has been going through since early July when he and his dogs were called to Stratford, but Rieder said he has been in regular contact with his comrade. “We talk almost daily, and I have been out to see him several times over the last few weeks. He’s pretty broken up about it. He tries to put on a brave front, but I know how it affects him and lots of other cops. Whether it’s losing a dog in the line of duty or because of age or illness, it’s a tough thing to go through.” One aspect of the tragedy is that Skillings plays out the incident to see if something could have been done differently. “Dan and I have gone over everything back and forth several times, and he did everything right. The dog did everything right. Sometimes things happen.”

What is next for Skillings is left up to the policing powers that be, but if Rieder had a say, he would be a handler again as soon as possible. “Dan is a phenomenal dog handler. If you asked him how his dog is doing, he would say he’s just okay, we need to work on this and that. His dogs are always as good or better than all the dogs around him. And for him, good is never good enough. He is so good at what he does, and I know he wants another dog, and not knowing is weighing on him. I really hope the service stands behind him and recognizes the role he has taken on.” He added the general public really doesn’t understand what K9 units do to help keep the peace. “K9s are one of the most prevalent units when it comes to doing demonstrations and contact with the public that put the police in a positive perspective. They always steal the show, so from the police perspective, the dogs help the relationship between the public and the police.”

Rieder said what people don’t see is the positives these animals can do for mankind in the interest of public safety. “We can search for sick, injured, and missing people with a dog in a couple of hours, something that couldn’t be done with 20 people in six hours. I personally have found so many Alzheimer’s patients and people with mental health issues. On the other hand, a lot of the criminal elements are not afraid of the police, but they are afraid of a dog.” When K9 units are called out, it is often a case where culprits are fleeing the police, and many suspects are armed. “We are dealing with drugs and weapons, so they are trying to get away from us. So many times, we would have never found them, known who they were, recovered the weapons, if it wasn’t for the police dog,” he added.

The support from officers and K9s from across Ontario was heartwarming, something Rieder said helps with the healing process. “The family within the police service and the dog community showed up from all over the province. Hamilton sent their K9 and mounted unit. The horses are also service animals, and it feels reassuring to know you have the support of all these people behind you.” Both of Rieder’s sons are police officers in Hamilton, Ryan being with the mounted unit who attended Tuesday’s service. “It was a proud moment for me. I trained the Hamilton K9 unit for many years, and now I have two boys working there.”

Tuesday’s service was a private affair for police  and family members. Many members of the public, along with their dogs, crowded the procession in support of Taz.

– The Wilmot-Tavistock Gazette

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