Tracking down crime

Cpl. Doug Buchanan retires from the Abbotsford Police after 22 years working with canine partners.

Cpl. Doug Buchanan at work with one of his canine partners.

Cpl. Doug Buchanan at work with one of his canine partners.

Cpl. Doug Buchanan and police dog Titus received a call to help find a stolen car suspect in Mission.

The track led to a slough, but there was no sign of the culprit. Some time later, the man was arrested. He said the reason he wasn’t found the previous time was because he had been hiding underwater, breathing through a reed.

Such is the nature of the police K9 unit – when the dog can’t find the culprit, there’s usually a good reason.

Buchanan, who worked as a dog handler with the Abbotsford Police Department (APD) for 22 years, retired in January. He and his canine counterparts captured countless criminals over the years.

They were called to assist at an array of crime scenes – including break-ins, robberies, drug busts and murders – to help track down suspects and/or evidence, or to assist with arrests.

“The dogs will find things that you and I won’t find unless they’re in plain view,” Buchanan said.

As an example, he cited a murder investigation in the area of Downes Road and Mt. Lehman in which the dog found a crucial piece of evidence – a black balaclava – in a ditch half a mile away from the crime scene.

On another occasion, the dog found a suspect hiding in the back of a hollowed-out couch that had been pushed up against a wall.

When the dog loses the track, it’s usually because the suspect has fled in a vehicle.

Buchanan, 55, said working a crime scene with a canine partner requires a special relationship based on mutual respect and trust.

“I have to know what my dog’s limitations and capabilities are … Most of the problems you see with dog owners is they don’t know what their dog’s limits are, and what they can and can’t do.”

Buchanan first became a police officer in 1987, starting with the patrol section, but found it wasn’t quite to his liking.

“I have an extremely low patience with the people we deal with,” he laughed. “I get along better with dogs.”

He was paired with his first two dogs – Titan and Ferro – for seven years each before they were retired and went to live on large properties.

His third dog, Titus, turned nine in November and will continue to live with Buchanan and his wife, Linda, who is also a retiring APD officer.

Each new dog-and-handler pairing required an intensive training period in Innisfail, Alta., followed by six months on the road before final validation was given.

Buchanan said each of his four-legged partners had distinct personalities, and he had to learn, for example, how much praise they required while they were working.

He dismissed the stereotype that police dogs are scary and always ready to attack. Buchanan has taken Titus to many local classrooms, where the kids fussed over the dog.

“Ninety-eight per cent of police dogs are just big goofs. You wouldn’t even know they are police dogs … At the end of the day, they’re just dogs.

“They’re well-trained dogs, but they still like to chase rabbits.”

One of the reasons Buchanan decided to retire, despite his love of working with dogs, is the physical toll the job can take on both the handlers and the canines. Ankle, knee and back problems are common.

“Chasing 25-year-old guys through swamps and over fences is kind of losing its appeal,” he said.

He now looks forward to spending his retirement years on a large property outside of the Lower Mainland – with plenty of room for Titus to chase rabbits.

POLICE DOG SERVICES

Cpl. Doug Buchanan and his canine partners were members of the RCMP’s Lower Mainland Police Dog Services (PDS), which has 41 teams from the RCMP and four from the Abbotsford Police Department.

The dogs are trained for tracking and searching for suspects, evidence, drugs and explosives. When they are not on a call, they patrol the communities in which they are based and provide backup to general duty officers.

Quick facts:

–A dog can search a car in approximately three minutes.

– Dogs can work up to four hours with rest breaks.

– The estimated cost to train a member and dog team is $60,000.

– On average, a police service dog retires at the age of seven.

Source: RCMP website (rcmp-grc.gc.ca)