His partner is gone, but Danny the police service dog will serve his country again.
Danny broke the hearts of Canadians on Tuesday, whimpering near the casket of his handler, Constable Dave Ross, at the funeral for the officer and two other Codiac Mounties shot to death last week in Moncton.
The force announced on Wednesday that Danny will become only the second RCMP dog since 1985 to return to service after the death of its handler. Four handlers have died since the RCMP introduced its police dog service nearly 80 years ago.
The German shepherd, who turns 3 in September, is under the care of an officer who used to be a dog handler in the Codiac RCMP, and will stay in Moncton until a new potential handler is found. (The Codiac detachment declined to name the officer, who is taking a two-week break with the rest of the unit to recover from last week’s trauma.)
Danny, who has been in training since he was a weeks-old pup, has another five years before he reaches retirement age, said Sergeant Eric Stebenne, who trains handlers at the RCMP headquarters in Innisfail, Alta., near Red Deer.
“I can’t think of a better way to honour Dave Ross’s memory than to have Danny go back to what he loved – operational duty,” Sgt. Stebenne told The Globe and Mail.
Constable Ross’s wife, Rachael Ross, said in a statement on Wednesday that “it wouldn’t be fair to Danny to retire him, as he loved his work as much as Dave did.”
Danny will be the first RCMP dog to get a new partner in 2014. Only a handful of service dogs are “re-teamed” each year, Sgt. Stebenne said, and it usually happens when the handler retires or changes jobs.
The process is not easy. The force has to find a trained handler who wants a new partner. That will take at least a few weeks.
After that, the handler will need to spend time “bonding” with Danny to make sure they are the right fit. That, Sgt. Stebenne said, will be a little tough.
“It’s safe to say there’s going to be some confusion in Danny’s mind about where Dave is,” he said. The dog had lived with Constable Ross since 2012, just after he turned 1, and they graduated from training together last August.
Once they make a successful bond, Danny and the handler will spend three weeks in Innisfail to re-train and make sure their teamwork is up to RCMP standards on several fronts, including obedience, criminal apprehension, firearms and narcotics location.
If the pair finish those three weeks without problems, Danny will have a new partner.
Officers clamour to get into the Innisfail program. At any given time, up to 400 people are on the waiting list. Right now, four officers are in training.
Before officers can get into the program, they must spend six months to a year shadowing a handler in their division and acting as decoy targets, called quarries.
From there, aspiring handlers spend off-duty time for two to nine years “imprinting,” or training, young puppies to become service dogs.
Constable Ross made it known he wanted to be a “dog man” from the moment he joined the force. Once he was posted to Moncton, he spent every second he could training dogs, even swearing off relationships until he met his future wife in 2009.
After graduating from service dog training, officers can be posted anywhere in the country. Constable Ross discovered he would be staying in Moncton shortly before he died; Danny had been in service for just under a year.
But there’s no rush to get him back on the job, Sgt. Stebenne said. “He’s well looked after and cared for right now. Our main job is to identify who will be suitable for a partner.”
It is a question of when he finds a partner, not if. “Danny is member of the RCMP,” Sgt. Stebenne said. “He’s trained to serve Canadians. It’s important we keep him going down that road, to serve Canadians until the end of his career.”