When All is Not As it Seems

This is for one of our dispatchers…..you know who you are.

Let me explain something before I get too much farther into this, and give you a mini-crash course on how handlers and police dogs communicate.  Police Service Dog Hondo is trained on human scent.  I watch and read his body language when he is tracking a person.  Every little nuance means something, so it’s up to me to figure out what Hondo is ‘saying’.  Sometimes the communication comes easy, but other times Hondo exhibits behaviour I’ve never seen before. 

Last year, on a beautiful hot summer night, Hondo and I responded to a call of a break and enter (it may have even been a theft from auto…the facts surrounding the actual crime itself are a bit fuzzy; the reason for being will soon make itself apparent).  The suspect fled on foot prior to our arrival, the patrol units were setting up containment and Hondo and I responded directly to the scene.

After speaking to witnesses, I gave Hondo his command to track and soon we were after the fleeing suspect.  We had a vague physical description on the suspect – white male in his 40’s, brown hair, wearing a dark coloured hoodie and jeans – so I kept an eye on Hondo’s body language as well as an eye out for anyone matching that description as we tracked through yards, across streets and over a couple of fences.

It wasn’t until we tracked for two blocks that Hondo lost the scent, and it looked as if the suspect had made good his escape in a vehicle.  The walk back to our own vehicle took Hondo and I into a school yard with a big, hilly field.  We were crossing the field when Hondo perked up.  Something at the other end of the school yard had caught the dog’s attention.

Hondo was giving me all the physical cues that he was working human scent, but there were new little twitches and ear tweaks in his movements I had not seen before.  Perhaps he had located the suspect and the suspect was armed?  Was that why Hondo was acting strange?  Maybe the suspect had commited suicide and it was death my dog was reacting to?  There was a quiet, repetitive sound coming from the area of the trees near the base of the hill, and in my minds eye I saw the suspect’s body hanging from a branch, his sneakered feet gently tapping against the tree trunk as he swung from a noose.  I know the thought is a bit morbid, but you have to be prepared for the worst in this job, and what the heck was that noise? 

In any event, I picked up that something was not quite right.  I unholstered my pistol and moved towards the sound from a position of cover.  Hondo can be a very stealthy dog so he did not make a sound, and the faint glow from nearby street lights illuminated his silhouette.  My dog wanted to go towards the sound but he kept stopping and putting his nose up as if he was tasting the air, and his hackles had raised the slightest bit.  Not good.  It meant Hondo was on high alert as well.

Together as a team, we closed in.  When we were in position, I lit up the area with my flashlight and yelled out a warning, “POLICE, DON’T MOVE!”

I had expected one of several things – a corpse swinging from a tree, a suspect to come out of the trees armed with some type of weapon, or shaking branches signalling a quick retreat.  What I had not expected was the flurry of arms and legs as two naked bodies tried to cover themselves.

It wasn’t an armed or deceased suspect my dog had reacted to – it was two teenaged kids having a midnight romp in the park.

The girl screamed, grabbed at the blanket and rolled away from my light.  The boy’s plaster-coloured face was a shocked oval as he hauled his pants up from their resting place at his ankles, his manhood no longer so interested in what it had been doing.  I let my flashlight extinguish in similar fashion.

Oh dear. 

The next few moments were a series of mumbled apologies from the boy and high, squeeky notes from the girl as she scrambled to gather her clothing.  Hondo was wagging his tail and he obviously wanted to go check the kids out, more out of curiousity than anything else.  It was all I could do to keep the laughter from braying out and we left the two kids to recover what was left of their dignity so Hondo and I could make good our own escape.


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