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Monday, 29 September 2014

At Least They're Not Dead

People who know me, will know that I'm fairly blunt, to the point & sometimes speak without engaging my brain. The power of typing a Blog means I get to proof read anything before I make it live!

It was during a conversation about puppy walking where the words "At least they're not dead" came straight out of my mouth before thinking. The response from the person I was chatting to was "that's a bit harsh".

But actually on reflection, my response makes sense.

If I had a pound for every time I had to answer this question as a puppy walker, I'd be a very rich man & it's a question we've pondered over ourselves many many times. "How do you give them up?" 

First Sprockers bred by West Mids Police

Of course, people are referring to what we call D-Day. The day in which the young puppy you've nurtured for 8-12 months leaves your family to enter the big wide world of becoming a Police Dog.

It's an absolute killer when we have to send the pups off to their new dog handler. I always call it D-Day (Dreaded Day) and despite having done it many many times, the day & week or so leading upto D-Day never gets any easier.

Just before Izzy went to her handler, we'd bumped into my mate while we are heading upto the park & naturally he asked when Izzy was due to go back. During that conversation he said "I just don't know how you can let them go" and it was at this point I simply responded "At least she's not dead".

I was kind of referring to the fact that we'd just nearly lost her on the operating table at the vets, however I did also kind of mean that at least when the pups leave us, it's not because they've died.

Izzy in doggy intensive care
The pups are full of life, healthy, athletic & in the prime of their lives. They've been kept active & have all of the ingredients to become super successful police dogs. Life is all on the up for them.

It's been a pretty crap year for dogs in our family. Shortly before our wedding we lost our family dog Sam, who'd reached a super age of 14. Despite his mind wanting to carry on, sadly his body had slowly deteriorated over the course of time & he was in such a state, we made the decision to put him to sleep.

It's the most horrible decision for any animal owner to have to make & it was a decision that wasn't taken lightly. Everyone in the family had their view & input, and we all came to same conclusion that despite the fact we all wanted Sam to be around, we'd have been keeping him alive for very selfish reasons. The kindest act for Sam, was to allow him to pass away peacefully & without any more pain.

Sam was a staffy & he's the reason I fight so hard to uphold the name & reputation of the breed. He was a fabulous family dog who adored children & people. "They're softer than you think!"

Sam shortly before he left us
Losing a dog who's been part of your life for 14 years is tough, way way tougher than letting a puppy go off to start their journey as a young, fit & active police dog.

More recently we've had a few strife's with Taylor. Those of you who follow on Twitter (@WMP_Dog) will have been keeping track of Taylor's ailments over the past few months.

Taylor starting to look his age
The very first thing I did when I moved out of my parents & brought my house was to get a dog. Taylor was the very thing I got! So 10 years on, he's been around as my sidekick for a long time.

He's seen a fair few dogs come & go though this house, & has played such a crucial role in the development of the puppies we've had.

Taylor & Sear chilling together
However, sadly, time is catching up on him. Only recently we'd be out in the park & people would think Taylor was the puppy not the younger police dogs! When we told people he was 10 they couldn't believe it!

But not any longer, poor Taylor's starting to show his age & is slowing down. Some days he's out of breath just walking around our park.

It's the time every dog owner dreads. The inevitable & unavoidable downward spiral of health every single dog (& any other living being) suffers from.

Taylor as a puppy
Without boring you on all of the history of Taylor's current ailments he is currently sporting a respectable list of doggy health issues including a heart murmur, hip displacia, kidney failure but most worryingly he also has epilepsy.

His epilepsy is the one thing that has caused us so much worry with him. Not only has he had to go under for MRI scans and various other tests, it's the seizures which have caused us more worry & upset than all of the puppy D-Days put together.

Anyone who's ever witnessed their dog having a seizure will understand the shear panic & worry during a seizure. The overriding thoughts during a seizure are whether they're gonna make it out. 

As a child, we had a beagle who had epilepsy - the sight of him having a seizure in my parent's lounge still sticks in my head now. Sadly, he died due to a seizure at the age of just 4.

Every time we hear Taylor's collar rattle we jump up expecting to see him having a fit, when in fact he's just scratching himself. Every time his cage rattles we jump up expecting to see him having a fit, when in fact he just shook himself (as dogs do). It amazing just how many everyday noises & actions trick you into thinking he's having a fit.

Our biggest fear is the thought of leaving him alone & us coming back to him dead or waking up in the morning to him having suffered a life ending seizure.

There's a few Blogs I want to put out to try & help any other dog owners who are suffering from having to witness their beloved dog having seizures & suffering with epilepsy. As with anything dog related, there are so many differing opinions & 'help' articles out there on the internet that it's sometimes hard to filter through things.

We've spent hours & hours on the internet "researching" all kind of things, however we've also fallen into the trap of trying to second guess his diagnosis. We've cast ourselves doubt over professional medical advice we've received from a vet whom I regard as one of the best vets I've ever come across.

It's very very easy to fall into the 'Google Trap' of thinking you've uncovered a miracle cure or miracle diagnosis.

If I could pass on any initial advice to anyone reading this who's having health concerns with their dog - it would be to trust your vet. Whilst it's comforting to read articles where you think you've found the answer, generally you haven't. 

Second guessing your vet is a costly mistake & I'm yet to find anyone who's managed to diagnose & cure a dog via Google.

Despite Taylor's recent downhill spiral - he still has his moments of beaglesness!! In between his seizures you'd never guess there was anything wrong with & when he's running off with stolen things out of the bin he's certainly still got the beagle in him!

Taylor in Wales
So, after that bit of sad preface, we're just a few days away from picking up Super Ted - the sprocker police puppy. 

We've thought long & hard about getting another puppy & had decided that having another 'big dog' was probably not too fair on Taylor. Whilst he's so good with the pups, he does sometimes take a battering from them during their 'boisterous' stage. I didn't want him getting hasstled & his neck being ragged on. 'Mad' Ozzy used to get Taylor's whole head in his mouth!!

After having Izzy, it was always going to be difficult to find a better 'big dog' than Izzy. She was the perfect dog & I must admit we came very very close to keeping her - despite the costly price tag she'd have come with.

We were deciding on what we were going to do with regards to another dog, when the litter of sprockers popped up. One of the things I really enjoyed about having Izzy was working with a different breed. We learned so much from her, so when the chance arose to work with another breed, & a 'little dog' at that, we felt it was the right dog to work with.

Taylor's always had a puppy knocking around since he was young. I've always put the fact that he's so young at heart down to the fact he's always racing around with puppies. After 10 years of being around another dog, we felt that having Taylor on his own was probably not too fair on him either, so we've decided to have a new little project - Super Ted, the police puppy sprocker spaniel.

Puppy Ted
So we've opened our hearts up to another dog, and as sad as D-Day will be when Ted is old enough to leave us & as upsetting as it is when all of our pups eventually depart - "at least they're not dead".

Hopefully, the D Day we dread the most, is a long way off yet. There's life in the old dog yet!

Taylor enjoying a run in Wales last year

For those of you who follow our regular Blogs - little Super Ted has taken on a few Blogs of his own. As well as being in charge of the Twoofing (@WMP_Dog) he's also going to run a regular feature for The House of Dog under the Dogs With Blogs page.

Be sure to follow Super Ted's little adventures as a goes from #puptoPD

Sunday, 14 September 2014

NYPD Transit Bureau K9 Unit

We've been a bit slack on the Blogging side this year, managing just 3 Blogs for the whole of 2014 so far. It's been a bit of a crazy busy year so far, but a few people have reminded us recently just how much they enjoy reading our Blogs. (honestly, I'm not making that up!)

We've generated plenty of material over the past 9 months, so we'll try & get back to a more regular Blog schedule!

One of the reasons we've been so busy this year was due to our wedding & the planning, so what better way to get back to Blogging than the highlight of our honeymoon (well, the highlight for me anyway!)

A day we spent with the NYPD Transit Bureau K-9 Unit whilst on our honeymoon.

NYPD Transit Bureau K-9 Team

The trip came about thanks to our good friend Dave Raymond (AKA Mr Angry) who had visited New York last year. On his last day in New York he bumped into K-9 handler Persio Nunez & got chatting to him about what he does. Persio very kindly suggested to Dave that if any of his colleagues/friends were visiting New York they'd be more than welcome to spend some time with the Transit K-9 team. We didn't need a second thought about that invitation!

Cue some honeymoon planning around a trip to New York!

We'd been in contact with Persio a few times over email & we'd arranged to head over to the NYPD Transit Bureau K-9 Kennels on the last day of our honeymoon. To say I was excited was an understatement & despite the days of our honeymoon ticking down, we still had the trip to the kennels to look forward to.

So, whilst our final day on honeymoon was tinged with a bit of depression at the thought of coming home after nearly a month away, I must admit I was so excited to get to see the guys at the K-9 team.

After getting lost a couple of times on the New York underground, we finally managed to make it to the kennels situated in the Queens area of New York.

NYPD Transit Bureau K-9 Training Office
We entered into the secure compound & were greeted into the area like long lost friends! Hand on heart, I can honestly say the welcome we got from the guys at the K-9 Unit was one of the most professional, friendly & welcoming greetings I've had anywhere across the world.

We met with Sergeant Kristopher Jezsek who heads up the K-9 unit & had our introductions to the shift who were on duty at the time. We were made to feel so welcome & were afforded the luxury of being able to wander around the secure area as if we were part of their team.

I kept asking Kris if it was OK to take photo's, his answer always being "Yeah feel free". It got to the point where I think he was a bit fed up of me keep asking if it was OK to take a photo of this, that & the other!!The whole team made us feel so welcome.

We had a little tour around the kennels area, each time I passed something the customary "Are you sure it's OK to take a picture of this?" question came out.

For somewhere stuck smack bang in the middle of an urban area of New York, the set up is really good. The kennel blocks were super & I was really surprised that something so urban could offer the dogs should a great place to kennel.

NYPD Transit Bureau K-9 Kennels

As we headed back into the training office, we started chatting about K-9 Units in America & this is where it started to get really embarrassing.

The K-9 teams out in the States, are so much more advanced in terms of the way they treat their working dogs.

I spoke about the petition we have to get better protection for our Police dogs & with each word I spoke I found myself being more & more embarrassed at the way we treat our working dogs here in the UK. The guys in the K-9 team simply could not comprehend the fact that Police Dogs are merely treated as a piece of property. To stand & explain that if a criminal injures a police dog, it's treated the same as if they had kicked a hole in a fence was the most uncomfortable conversation I think I've ever had.

The embarrassment took a turn for the worse when the K-9 team spoke about the way Police Dogs are treated in the States. They told us that they have trauma trained K-9 handlers on duty/on call 24 hours a day. If a dog is injured there's a specially trained K-9 handler available to perform emergency trauma treatment.

Furthermore, if a dog needed emergency veterinary treatment they had the option of calling in the Police Helicopter to medevac the dogs to a veterinary practice! Although this doesn't happen very often they do have the option & it has been used in the past. However, what usually happens is the K-9 handler with specialist training would get to the dog, who would then be rushed to the vets in a full blue light run. Road closures, Police bikes etc all on hand to get the dog to the vets immediately.

If a big hole could have opened up right there, I'd have jumped in! This was seriously awkward. Specialist trained trauma handlers? Blue light runs, road closures & Police Helicopters to get a dog to the vets? Can you imagine that ever happening here in the UK?

Seriously, we're embarrassingly behind the USA when it comes to the treatment of Police Dogs.

The conversation then turned to the subject how the K-9 teams acquire dogs. A topic which enabled us to gain a bit of respect & credibility back.

Most of the dogs in the States are brought over from Europe, many carrying a big price tag & a somewhat chequered background. It's one of the reasons the K-9 teams look after their dogs so well. It's a huge investment for them. However, with it comes a few problems. The history of the dogs are sometimes an unknown entity, some come with a few training issues etc etc.

West Midlands Police Puppies

When we spoke about the Breed Scheme West Midlands Police has, the guys were taken aback. The very fact that all of the dogs within West Midlands Police have come from within their own breeding scheme was something they couldn't get their head around. It's a great testament to the great work that goes into the scheme & also the fact that close to 90% of all dogs bred by the scheme end us as operational dogs.

People sometimes take the scheme for granted, but when you hear the stories of forces procuring dogs from some places, at least you know with the breed scheme at West Mids that the dogs all have a detailed background from the moment they were born.

It's a real credit to the army of puppy walkers who do such a fantastic job for the West Midlands Police breed scheme. They really are the unsung heroes of dog units.

Discussions then moved to training & this is where I love meeting & speaking with fellow dog people. You can't fail to pick up new ideas when you speak to other trainers. I always say that if you can just take one little idea from a conversation, seminar or training session then it's been worthwhile.

The dogs at the K-9 team are in the main, dual purposes trained dogs. They are used for explosive detection & general purpose work i.e tracking suspects or missing people & used for apprehension - biting people!

There's a huge focus on the use of tennis balls here in the UK for specialist search dog training, whereas the guys at the Transit Bureau K-9 team had a really interesting reward for their dogs when training detection work - they use towels!

Police Dog Taylor with his towel reward
During our discussion we spoke about the use of a towel and the fact that it has many benefits in training. The fact that it's easy to imprint an odour into a towel makes it a safe way to use them as articles in a search. Also, the main benefit of towel is that it can offer a dog a much greater reward than a tennis ball. 

Most dogs love playing tug of war - even Taylor our Beagle loves to tug around. You can add a line onto the towel to make the tug of war game even greater, simulating a rabbit playing dead & trying to escape. The reason that towels can offer an even greater reward is the fact that the dog can catch, tug, chase & then 'kill' the towel. 

You also don't have to worry about a tennis ball bouncing around everywhere when you deliver a reward. When training in live environments, having a tennis ball bouncing around Times Square or Grand Central Station isn't the most practical approach!

As the ultimate reward, with a towel the dog gets to go through the whole predatory cycle  - barring being able to consume the towel!

  • Search - searching for the required odour
  • Stalk - performing the indication
  • Chase - indication is marked & the towel is delivered for the dog to chase
  • Bite - the dog gets to chase & catch the towel
  • Dissect - the dog gets to rip up the towel 
  • Consume- obviously this stage wouldn't be continued with a towel

Compare this schedule of reward compared to a dog simply grabbing a tennis ball & it bouncing around a training environment. 

Consider the UK where spaniels are used heavily, would this [a towel] method of reward work better with a spaniel than a tennis ball? Would using a towel over a tennis ball better replicate the spaniel's natural instinct of flushing out & retrieving?

It's a theory I've spent a bit of time researching since our trip to them Transit K-9 team! That's a Blog for another time though.

The most remarkable difference to the Transit K-9's approach to police dogs was the way in which they are deployed. The team would think nothing of jumping on a packed New York tube with their police dog. Can you imagine the Met deploying GP police dogs onto the London Underground?!

Transit Bureau K9 in Grand Central Station
This is not a GP dog positioned at a train station for a football match like here in the UK, this is a daily occurrence in New York - a Police Dog carrying out a pro active foot patrol around Grand Central Station. The dogs & handlers are out day in, day out on foot patrol together all around New York.

It is a topic I'm really interested in. Here in the UK we're absolutely petrified of accidental bites - and rightly so. However, the guys in the States are able to actively patrol their GP dogs on packed tubes, walk up & down the main New York streets, along with standing in places like Times Square with 1000's of people interacting with their dogs on a daily basis.

It's how Dave managed to bump into Persio last year. With his patrol dog next to him, Persio was stationed in the heart of one of New York's most popular spots - Times Square. A square where thousands of people each day fill the area coming within inches of Persio's patrol dog. It's a thought to fill most UK Police Dog supervisors with dread! Yet all these dogs & handlers are happy to pose for photo's with tourists.

Persio on patrol in Times Square
The natural question from me was regarding accidental bites. "How many accidentals do you get each year in this sort of environment?" Yet despite the dogs coming into contact with thousands of people every day, the number of such incidents could be counted on one hand!

Cue the flabbergasted look - which posed a really interesting question. Despite the majority of dogs in the UK coming from schemes where their history & temperament can be traced back to birth, why are we in the UK so frightened of deploying dogs into environments like they do in New York?

Would proactive foot patrols with a dog be such a taboo subject here in the UK? It's an interesting topic of discussion for sure!

It's a real credit the way in which the dogs in the Transit Bureau K-9 team are treated, trained & handled.

Whilst their ability to handle crowds of tourists is commendable, the dogs are still there to do a job, and a mighty important job they do.

It was a fairly hard hitting conversation with Persio which brought home just how valuable the K-9 teams are in New York. "It's not a matter of if, it's a case of when. One day one of us will go to work & one day one of us won't return".

It was a conversation which brought home just how vulnerable the K-9 teams are. They're right at the forefront of keeping New York safe from terrorist attacks. Fresh from visiting the 9/11 Memorial, a visit where we'd been hit emotionally by the scale of the tragedy that struck on that horrific day. Standing within the 9/11 site the day before, was one of the most emotional things I've ever done. Spine chilling, tear jerking & frightening all at the same time. It's something which brings home just how powerful those sickening images everyone has seen are.

Police Dog in the aftermath of 9/11

These dogs are some of the most important dogs in the world. Whilst their friendly demeanor may endear them to the millions of tourist who visit New York each year, the dogs are at the forefront of the fight against terrorism.

With such a huge emphasis & level of responsibility placed on the K-9 teams here in New York, it's vital the dogs are able to perform at the highest level. It's what makes their training so valuable & it's why little things like using towels as rewards has so much thought.

Training is analysed & planned to the nth degree. As part of our visit to the K-9 team they kindly put on a little demo of their dog's capabilities - from detecting explosives to apprehending criminals. They're a super talented unit from the dogs, the handlers, the trainers through to the supervision. A real credit the New York Police Department.

Apprehension of a suspect by the K-9 team

It's an impressive K-9 set up. These dogs are dual purpose trained. One minute they could be searching for deadly explosives on a packed tube train & the next they could be needed to apprehend & detain a potential terrorist. Super skilled, highly trained dogs at the forefront of protecting our world against the treat of crime & terrorism.

The final part of our tour was to see the extensive amount of 'gadgets' the team has. Everyone knows all us dog people LOVE gadgets! They had all sorts there, but the one which caught my eye the most, was the amazing 'dog van' the K-9 team has.

I couldn't believe my eyes when I caught site of this absolute beast of a machine!

Transit Bureau K-9 dog 'van'

It was an awesome bit of kit, capable of holding a huge amount of dogs with enough kit & resources to provide around a week's worth of supplies for a full load of dogs & handlers. Another, crucial bit of kit in the fight against terrorism.

The dog van (van is definitely the wrong word!!) had everything you could possibly think of. Water supplies, air condition, spare batteries, firearms cover - when I say it is a beast of a machine I'm not exaggerating!

Dog van supplies
It was a fairly new dog van, which had been custom built. The NYPD management had taken on board all of the comments & suggestions of handlers which resulted in the dog van being built from scratch & included everything every handler could possibly want in a dog van.

The whole day at the NYPD Transit Bureau K-9 Team was remarkable. We were treated so well by every single person we came across. We were made to feel at home & treated like we were one of their team.

It was a fascinating insight into the world of K-9's in the USA & we couldn't have had better hosts.

We're so grateful to the whole team for the day we spent with them - a day which was the highlight of my honeymoon!

We must say a really big thanks to Persio who organised the day for us too. Without him we'd have never have made it across to the team & we're so grateful for him going out of his way to organise everything for us. It's a day & photo we'll treasure.

Photo with Persio

A big thanks also goes to Sergeant Kristopher Jezsek who welcomed us into his unit with such hospitality. The whole team were great hosts & we're looking forward to making a return trip!

Last but not least, we were highly honoured to have been able to meet "the world's greatest Police Dog" - Police K-9 Achilles!

We were made aware of Police Dog Achilles extraordinary ability as a police dog by non other than . . . .  .his handler of course! A real top bloke & a person who shared my view of how a police dog should be. We had a lot in common & he clearly idolized his police dog - and rightly so.

His dog Achilles was a HUGE thing with one of the best temperaments I've seen. A real credit to his handler.

A photo with the World's Greatest Police Dog - PD Achilles

Police Dog Achilles' story has reached the UK shores & many senior members of UK police dog teams have heard about Police Dog Achilles! We were honoured to have been able to meet him. 

All in all it was a fantastic end to our honeymoon & a visit we'll treasure forever.

Here's to the NYPD Transit Bureau K-9 Team - at the forefront of the fight against terrorism & helping keeping our world safe.

Stay safe & always return home.