Police pooch retires

There’s no more Justice at the RCMP. The well-known police dog retired Friday, after eight years of service.

There’s no more Justice at the RCMP.

The well-known police dog retired Friday, after eight years of service.

And he didn’t seem very happy about it.

Sitting on a picnic table behind the Whitehorse RCMP detachment, barking and whining, Justice appeared active and agile.

But at his annual certification, the vet noticed Justice was developing problems with his back end.

“As a trainer, you don’t notice those things,” said police dog handler Cpl. Rod Hamilton.

“My wife says I’m in denial.”

Hamilton and Justice have been a team since Justice was a pup.

“We know each other,” said Hamilton.

“He knows exactly what I’m thinking and when my pager or phone goes off, he’s right there with this look like, ‘Let’s get going.’”

Justice has lived with Hamilton since he was nine months old, and will remain with him in retirement.

“There’s a huge bond,” said Hamilton.

“You don’t spend eight or nine years with a partner and then say, ‘See you later buddy.’”

But some police handlers do find good homes for their retired dogs, because, when a replacement pup comes along, there can be jealousy issues.

Hamilton’s new pup, Ryder, was barking in the police truck. And Justice whined in response.

“It’s hard on an old dog, to see this new dog come work with me,” said Hamilton.

Right now Justice still rides in the front of the truck with Hamilton, and Ryder sits in a kennel in the back.

But this is going to change.

“We’re going to have to do stuff to distract Justice,” said Hamilton.

“And give him lots of attention.”

Justice has always lived in a kennel in Hamilton’s backyard. But in retirement, he will be moving into the house.

“We are slowly starting to wean Justice off work, de-program him and get him more into pet mode,” said Hamilton.

Gnawing on a large wooden barbell, Justice didn’t look ready to retire.

Hamilton threw the barbell, gave a command and Justice began running to retrieve it.

“Down,” said Hamilton, and Justice dropped to the ground just in front of his target.

“OK,” he said.

And Justice picked up the wooden toy and began running back to Hamilton.

“Drop it,” he said.

Instantly, Justice let the toy fall.

“With the drug work and tracking, the training never really stops,” said Hamilton.

“But his real bread and butter is tracking and apprehending criminals.”

Hamilton remembered one call, when police spotted a stolen car and a chase ensued.

The suspects bailed out near McCrae and Justice started tracking them.

He found them hiding out in an old, abandon transport cab.

Afterwards, during questioning, one of the suspects said he heard a dog bark and said, ‘Oh crap, it’s Justice — I’ll see you in two months,’” said Hamilton with a laugh.

It’s unique for a dog and handler to stay in one spot for this long, he said.

“As a result, Justice is quite well known in the territory.”

Kids come up to Hamilton on the street and call Justice by his first name, he said.

“Everyone knows he’s a good crimefighter and an extension of the community.”

Upon command, Justice tried to jump back up on the picnic table. But one of the bench boards was loose and he stumbled.

There are always hazards in police work, said Hamilton, as he helped Justice onto the table.

Once, Justice was clobbered on the head with a crowbar while trying to apprehend a suspect.

He’s fallen on his rear end quite severely, and the daily running, jumping and tracking took its toll on him, said Hamilton.

“He was often running through the bush, pulling me along behind him on an 18-foot line, which puts a tremendous amount of pressure on his rear end.

“So, he’s done his time.”

Justice could probably work another year, but it might cripple him, said Hamilton.

At the start of his career, Justice and Hamilton went through the demanding, 80-day, police-dog-training course.

And in September, Hamilton will be starting this course again with Ryder.

“You never know how a puppy is going to turn out,” he said.

Even when he was a pup, Justice was very mature and was out on the street at 13 months, he said.

“But Ryder is still very much a puppy.”

Not as big as Justice, but much fluffier, 15-month-old Ryder bounded onto the table, while Justice stood on the sidelines barking.

“He’s already done several miles of tracking,” said Hamilton, petting the hyper pooch.

“And I’m very pleased to be taking him to training — I think he has what it takes.”

However, if the puppy fails in even one aspect of training, Hamilton will have to find another pup and try again.

Ryder comes from RCMP breeding, but police are willing to recruit any promising pup.

There’s a shortage of service dogs since 9/11, said Hamilton.

And not all German Shepherds are cut out to be police dogs, he said.

It’s going to be hard to start again with a new dog, he added.

“I will always compare the new dog to the old dog, and I have to get over that hurdle.”

The dogs are truly different, he said.

“And I’m the one who’s going to have to change.”

Police handlers and their dogs always form a strong bond, said Hamilton.

“Dogs aren’t machines.

“You can’t work with one dog one day, then another person work with the dog the next day.

“It all works on the bond system — that’s why Justice comes home with us every night.”

In his career, Justice has been on more than 1,000 calls and has participated in more than 300 arrests.

“He has a big heart,” said Hamilton.

“You could cut off all his legs while he was on a track, and he would still drag himself to the end.”

Justice has a special place in my heart, he said.

“He’s carried me for the last eight years, and I’m going to carry him into his sunset years.

“I wish I could keep him for another 10 years.”