The members in the Police Dog Service in Red Deer are an integral part of the RCMP. All of the RCMP dogs in Canada are bred and trained out of the Police Dog Service Training Centre in Innisfail.
There are 20 litters of puppies each year and one in three puppies completes training to become an RCMP Police Service Dog. The dogs are trained not only for RCMP dog handlers but other partners such as Parks Canada as well.
There are four RCMP officers a part of the Police Dog Service in Red Deer and they not only serve the City and surrounding area, but they serve south of Ponoka, north of Crossfield and east to west to the provincial borders.
RCMP Const. Simon Bigras has been an officer since 2002 and has been stationed in Red Deer for six years. He is one of four members that are a part of the Police Dog Service in Red Deer. He has been involved in that department since 2012.
“We’re a support service for the frontline members. In the Police Dog Service our job is to locate suspects, locate evidence, to search for drugs or explosives and search for missing people.”
He added members of the Police Dog Service also go to schools to do presentations as well as career fairs, among other community events. “People like to know what we do.”
As mentioned, one aspect of the Police Service Dog officer’s duties is to help find missing people.
In recent weeks, Bigras and other members from the Red Deer Police Dog Service searched for a missing Edmonton woman whose car was found near Nordegg.
Anina Hundsdoerfer, 32, from Edmonton was reported missing by her roommate on March 23rd. Alberta Fish and Wildlife officers located her car parked along the side of Highway 734 (Trunk Road) between Rocky Mountain House and Nordegg on the afternoon of March 25th.
“I was the first one to go look there. There was a lot of snow and I went into the ditch and it was chest-deep snow. We searched for about a week and we had about four dogs go up there and search at various times.”
Hundsdoerfer has still not been found.
Bigras has been teamed up with Cola, a German shepherd, since 2011 when he was just over a year old. They went in training six months after being paired together and graduated from the training program when Cola was two-years-old.
Today, training sessions and exercise are daily occurrences for Bigras and Cola.
“I actually spend more time with Cola than my wife. Every dog handler will say that. You have to keep up on your skills and there are yearly evaluations we have to go through to ensure we are keeping up on our skills,” he said.
The training a member and his canine undertake is extensive.
“When we are tracking we have to read the dog, we read their body language. If matters go to court we are declared experts in our field and because of the consistent training I can say when this happens, Cola does this and this is how I read it,” said Bigras. “For example if we are doing a drug search the training is he sits and he looks at it. If we’re searching he is going to alert me first that there is something in the area – he will get excited and his tail is going. We call it a ‘scent cone’ and he starts wide and picks up a scent – it’s just like if we are searching for a person or a gun too. It’s like a funnel and starts large and gets smaller. Once he finds it he will sit and stare at it. I just look between his two ears and know it is right there.”
Ultimately there is a bond between the two that is unbreakable.
“My main concern is to make sure Cola doesn’t get hurt. So if I believe that sending him in a certain way to apprehend someone, if that can get him injured, I might not deploy him or send him. There are other factors too, but my main concern is making sure Cola stays safe. We really have to be aware of our surroundings.”
In addition, the process for those members who are interested in becoming a dog handler with the RCMP is lengthy.
“You first go out with a dog handler and you lay tracks and take bites. You ride along with a dog handler to see what their job is,” said Bigras. “Then you go on an imprinting course for puppies and learn how to raise the RCMP puppies. It’s socializing and familiarization. You socialize the puppy with other animals and people and then you get the puppies used to buildings, stairs, etc. They want an animal that’s going to be able to go into any type of situation and not be skittish.”
The puppies begin participating in the imprinting course at an early age.
“They start imprinting the puppies from day one. As soon as they can start walking there is a little obstacle course they begin doing.”
The puppies are then teamed up with officers who take over the training by bringing them to work and then soon tracking is introduced as well. “You start with wieners and you try and keep their nose down.”
Meanwhile, as for calls that Bigras said he enjoys responding to they include break and enters, robberies and pursuits.
“Most dog handlers like those calls because most of the time those are in-progress offenses. Those are what we get called to the most and where our services are used. Those are on the spot and are actively tracking and going after somebody.”
At the end of the day for Bigras it’s about doing what he loves. “You can ask any dog handler and they say it’s the best job in the world. There is a lot of freedom and independence in this job.”