It was a beautiful day for people to bring their pets – mainly all kinds of canines – to Kin Park to take part in all sorts of activities, from grooming to agility tests and pet photos for the four-legged participants, and a silent auction and merchandise tables for the two-legged ones.
The main event that afternoon was the Walk for the Animals, which made its way from Kin Park, up Eighth Street and through the downtown area and back to the park again. Participants collected pledges on behalf of their beloved pets for the South Peace Branch of the SPCA to help them provide shelter and other services for abused, neglected or displaced animals. More information will be provided later this week on the overall success of the fundraiser.
A highlight from that afternoon was the police dog demonstration, facilitated by Cst. Brady Kyle and his two-and-a-half-year-old German Shepherd, Barter, who was actually named after the RCMP's longest-serving dog handler, Cpl. Terry Barter. Kyle said Barter is the product of a police dog breeding program and is actually the sixth dog he has trained or attempted to train.
He said that training can start as early as when the dog is just a few months old, and can take a few years to complete. A potential handler takes a five-day course to determine whether that member is suitable to raise pups, and is then matched up with a dog. The dog then goes through a "quarrying and imprinting phase" for at least two years where it is introduced to all kinds of different situations it might encounter in the field.
Kyle said if the dog is successful in that part of the training, the potential handler and his dog will be recommended by a trained handler to take an 85-day course in Innisfail, Alta., where the RCMP's dog training program is centralized.
"Our dogs have to be proficient in a tracking profile, searching profile, apprehension profile and narcotics profile," he said. "If they are not proficient in even one of those profiles, then they don't make our program."
He said the dogs that are not successful in the program are usually sold to individuals involved with search and rescue, to other police forces, or just to civilians who have good homes for the dogs.
Kyle said if the training is successful, the dog becomes an important asset to assist officers in locating suspects, missing persons and narcotics, and sometimes to apprehend suspects. He said the dogs are trained to hone in on the freshest human scent in an area and follow it, and to ignore all other smells, and they are not trained to be instinctually aggressive with people.
"He's not a mean dog, he has a good disposition, and he just wants to find people," he said of Barter. "He's a big goof, and he loves to play, but his play is his work."
Kyle also demonstrated that Barter has been trained to locate firearms based off the scent of gunpowder residue, and that sense is so precise that the dog can not only locate where a gun is but can also show where it has been recently.
He said once the dogs reach a certain age they are retired from the program, but because of their specialized training, handlers often keep their dogs even when they begin training other ones, or they find an appropriate home for the dog where it can adjust to not working.
"Once they do actually retire, they enjoy it. It takes them two or three months to realize they are not going to work anymore, but once they do, they are pretty adept at lying on their backs and taking in the rays."
He added it is a special bond between handler and dog, one developed on trust.
"Our dogs are a tool, but they are not an expendable tool. They are the next thing to flesh and blood for us."
He said while the job requires non-stop training, he enjoys it because he likes to work outside and have fun with his dogs.