A Dog Handler’s Day One

In April 2006, after months of training, PSD Hondo and I were finally ready to hit the road.  All the years of hard work had finally culminated with Hondo and I deploying on our first shift as a bona fide K9 team. 

Nervous? Me? Noooo, not at all.

Not since my first shift as a brand new recruit had I experienced the sweaty palms, racing pulse and cracking radio voice.  Excited I was finally living my dream, and terrified I would somehow make a mistake, I drove around getting used to my new call sign, Kilo 84, and trying to regain my composure.  Overall, I’d been doing a decent job until the night decided to throw me a ‘outta-the-frying-pan-and-into-the-fire’ type of call.

It was the middle of the night, and I was stopped at a red light when the flash of headlights briefly illuminated the interior of my SUV.  Then again, twice more, like the warning beacon of a lighthouse. At the same time, the squeal of tires snapped my attention out the passenger side window, and there in the parking lot beside me, was a small red Honda Civic.  The Honda’s headlights flashed as the car spun in tight little circles, tires screaming down rubber in a series of donuts.

Apparently, cops love donuts, and if the driver of the Honda wanted my attention, he definitely had it. 

A quick check of the licence plate revealed the car was on file as stolen, and when the Honda left the parking lot a few seconds later, I was behind it, all of my nervousness gone.  As I waited for backup units to arrive in the area, the suspect driver decided to try and stack the cards in his favour by cutting off a city bus and turning down a side street.  I had to wait for the bus to finish trundling through the intersection before executing a similar manoeuvre, and by the time I completed the turn, all that was left of the Honda was a flash of brake lights two blocks down.  It quickly became apparent there was no way I was going to catch up with the Honda, and when I took my eyes off the car for a moment in order to clear an intersection, it disappeared.

Not good.

Hoping to spot the Honda’s brake lights again, I drove in the direction the car had been travelling in.  But it wasn’t brake lights I spotted, it was smoke.  And skid marks.  And a demolished street sign.  Following a trail of destruction, I found the Honda, resting on it’s roof in someones side yard.  All the windows had been blown out, and thin tendrils of smoke rose from the revving engine.  I jumped out of my truck and ran to the car, thinking the driver would be injured and suspended upside down by his seat belt.  Imagine my surprise when I found an empty passenger compartment.  My only thought as I ran back to my truck to get Hondo was ‘You have got to be kidding me…’

The smoking, upside down car almost proved to be too much for a very new police dog (we had never seen this in a training scenario), but Hondo was able to keep his wits about him and he acquired a track away from the car.  For the next half an hour, Hondo tracked the car thief through yards, over fences and across a golf course.  It was not until the track ended in a parking lot that we had to admit defeat when it became clear the suspect had made good his escape in another vehicle.

This story doesn’t end with ‘the suspect in custody’.  No one was hurt, and with the exception of one street sign, a section of lawn, one sapling and a five year old Honda, nothing was damaged.  It does end with an example of the driving habits of car thieves – these guys think they’re of the Andretti vintage when they most definitely are not – and shows why we should all do more to combat auto theft.

And not every case a police dog team deploys on will result in an arrest – this truth was hammered home to me that night.  But I can guarantee you every case Hondo and I deploy on will be treated as if we are about to make the arrest of the century.  You’ve got my word on it.

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