December 2, 2014
When two child witnesses testify in a trial that begins in Calgary on Tuesday, they’ll have a 77-pound slobbery member of the police force by their side.
In what’s believed to be a first in Alberta and possibly Canada, a judge has allowed Hawk, a Calgary Police trauma dog, to replace a court support worker when a young girl and her brother testify against their father in a sex abuse trial that runs to Dec. 5.
“Clearly (Hawk) is not a person but he can be in that capacity of supporting those children to help lower their anxiety and that will contribute to the fairness of the trial,” said Hawk’s handler Sgt. Brent Hutt, who spends nearly all hours of his day with the pooch.
“He’s definitely the best partner I’ve had,” Hutt said.
Comforting victims of crime and relaxing Calgarians of all ages is Hawk’s full-time job, and it’s a task the low-energy dog does extremely well.
“He comes with us when we have to have difficult conversations about difficult situations with people,” Hutt said.
By licking faces, resting at people’s feet and offering his large, furry body to pet or cuddle, Hawk has an uncanny ability to calm people down.
He’s already had several meetings with the two children he will comfort at court on Tuesday and the trio’s bond is strong.
“They’re just in love with him and he’s in love with them,” Hutt said.
When he joined the force last fall, Hawk became the third trauma dog in Canada.
He’s been such a positive addition to the team that the Calgary Police Service is looking at adding a second trauma dog in 2015.
Hawk is one of several four-legged Calgarians who heads to work every day. Here’s a look at six of Calgary’s dogs who have jobs, making a difference in the human world.
Breed: Black labrador retriever
Occupation: Canine Assisted Intervention dog also known as a trauma dog with Calgary Police Services
Handler: Sgt. Brent Hutt
How he unwinds: After a long day at work laying around and helping people, Hawk loves to unwind with high-energy activities like playing tug-of-war, chasing a ball and running. He also loves eating carrots.
Breed: Beagle-border collie cross
Occupation: Detector dog with the Canada Border Services Agency at the Calgary International Airport
Handler: Laura Hiscott
Most interesting find: Turtles in a suitcase, the narcotic khat, and quarters of turkey in a passenger’s luggage.
Rusty sniffs passengers as they come off the plane, suitcases as they drop onto the carousel, and packages in postal and courier warehouses, searching for narcotics, foods that could carry pests or disease, firearms and other contraband. When he makes a discovery, he sits and looks expectantly at handler Laura Hiscott, waiting for her to toss one of his favourite dehydrated liver treats as a reward. His work ramps up at Christmastime, when the Calgary International Airport sees an influx of travellers.
“Detector dogs can smell 1,600 times stronger than people,” Hiscott said, adding detectors dogs are great tools for officers and also make excellent colleagues. “He’s the best partner I could ask for.”
Breed: Australian Labradoodle
Occupation: Therapy dog with the Tom Baker Cancer Centre’s psychosocial oncology department
Owner: Martina Quinn, social worker
Prized pooch: She won a volunteer award from Gov. Gen. David Johnston in 2011
Martina Quinn provides counselling to patients with breast, ovarian and neuroendocrine tumours. At times, they are nervous and anxious about their battle with cancer when they arrive for their session with Quinn. That’s where Tallulah comes in.
“Tallulah’s job is to calm them and make them feel comfortable in our office. During that therapeutic hour, she provides a lot of comfort and empathy,” Quinn said.
She’ll come right over and just put her head down on her lap. I think it’s her way of saying, ‘It’s going to be OK.’ — Martina Quinn.
Tallulah has worked with children and teenagers coping with parental cancer. She has participated in a research study on whether animal assisted therapy is helpful for breast cancer patients as part of their treatment.
“I’ve seen her get up off her mat when one of the clients has been crying, and she’ll come right over and just put her head down on her lap,” Quinn said. “I think it’s her way of saying, ‘It’s going to be OK.’”
Breed: Black Labrador Retriever
Occupation: Accelerant detection canine with the Calgary Fire Department
Handler: Brad McDonald, fire investigator
Busy dog: Since joining the fire department in May 2012, she has worked on 178 cases, including seven fatalities and 11 fire-related injury files
Honey, a 4-year-old black Labrador retriever and an accelerant detection canine with the Calgary Fire Department with his handler Brad McDonald, fire investigator.
Honey is tasked with searching for residue of ignitable liquids on the scene that may help investigators determine if a fire was deliberately set.
To keep her skills honed, Honey — who originally trained as a seeing eye dog — goes through roughly 30 training scenarios a day. Handler Brad McDonald drops small amounts of accelerants on the floor, door handles, the side of his truck, and commands Honey to “seek.”
When she finds the substance, she sits down, gives the area a lick, and waits for her dry kibble reward. “She is more accurate than any mechanical or electronic equipment on the market today that we can take into the field with us,” McDonald said. “She is 98 per cent accurate in training and more than 90 per cent accurate with crime lab results.”
Breed: Golden Retriever
Occupation: Therapy dog with the Pet Access League Society (PALS)
Owner: Anne-Marie Block
Big crew: Motu is among the 275 dogs, 13 cats, and two bunnies who take part in various PALS programs, including puppy rooms at post-secondary institutions.
When students meet Motu, smiles cross their faces and the stress of final exams evaporates momentarily as they focus on petting and showering him with attention. It’s the reason why schools like the University of Calgary and SAIT have brought therapy dogs from the Pet Access League Society (PALS) to their campuses.
Thao Nguyen, VP student life with the SAIT students’ association, says the puppy rooms “fun and interactive ways for students to de-stress” and important for mental health.
“The students love it. You can see it on their faces. When you stand back and watch them, some are almost in tears depending on what they are experiencing,” said PALS executive director Diana Segboer. “They throw their arms around these dogs. For one moment, they are just kids again and they’re just enjoying themselves.”
Breed: West Highland Terrier
Occupation: Canine with the Chestermere Therapy Dogs Society, Listening Tails program
Owner: Angela Cinq-Mars
Fun family fact: His brother Bart, another “Westie,” is also part of the program
Joey Varns is a little hesitant when he starts reading to Levi. But after a few minutes, the 10-year-old Grade 5 student at East Lake School in Chestermere finds his voice, and finishes his book from cover to cover, with Levi sitting by his side.
“Students who are shy readers, or reluctant to read in the classroom out loud, or if they struggle a bit with reading, we put them in the program,” said teacher Angela Bain. “Building confidence is the biggest piece.”
Levi is one of 15 dogs currently part of Chestermere Therapy Dogs Society’s Listening Tails program, which started out at the local library and is now expanding to schools.
“If a child is not reading particularly well, not enjoying reading, parents can often apply a bit of negative pressure on them,” president and founder Steve King said. “With a dog being non-judgmental, they can relax a lot more, just practice their reading without any form of negative interference.”