Special Holiday Hours…
An in-depth post by Jim Engel at Angel Place about the origins of Police dogs…
I have been an active police service dog handler and trainer for the past 16 years and have, during this time, given numerous presentations on police service dogs to school children, civic groups, and other interested organizations. One question which is always asked is the one concerning the origin of police dog programs. When I began this interesting and rewarding specialty in 1968, I decided to do some research into its history, anticipating such questions during my presentations and not wanting to appear overly ignorant on the subject. In one informational booklet, I read that all organized police service dog programs originated with a program established in Gent, Belgium, in 1899. Although I could locate no further information on the Gent program, I continued to convey this fact during the course of my presentations. A few years ago, I began corresponding with Sgt. Erik Verwilst, a Belgian gendarme stationed in Gent, and was fortunate enough to be able to visit him at his residence in Gent last summer. Since the mystery behind the Gent police dogs had been in the back of my mind for many years, I decided to ask Sgt. Verwilst to locate for me any available documentation on the subject from the Gent Police archives. In response to my request, I was presented with numerous photographic reproductions of original photos and photocopies of original documents on the subject in English, French and German, including a booklet in French written by the founder of the first police dog program himself, Chief Commissioner (Chief of Police) Ernest H. P. Van Wesemael in 1910. All of this documentation was provided through the courtesy of Chief Inspector Roger De Caluwe of the Gent City Police, who obtained this information through his departmental archives and the Gent Public Library.
It is doubtful that these original dog-handler pioneers had any idea that the concept they originated in 1899 would still be a vital part of world law enforcement nearly 90 years later. Every citizen who has ever had his stolen property recovered by use of a police service dog, every parent who has ever had a lost child found by a police service dog, and every police officer who has ever been protected from serious injury by a police service dog, owes an everlasting debt of gratitude to these 10 men who had the fortitude to initiate a concept, which, at the time, was unheard of in the law enforcement field. This, then, is their story as I have condensed it from over 15 contemporary booklets and newspaper articles written in three different languages. Chief Van Wesemael, Gent Police Chief from 1888 to 1915, even then was faced with the same problems which plague most police a dministrators today, that is a rising crime rate, numerous unsolved major crimes, and a lack of funding to hire additional personnel to combat this rapidly deteriorating situation. When the Gent burgomaster (mayor) refused him additional funds, Van Wesemael made the statement, “If you can’t give me more policemen, then give me some dogs.” The mayor agreed, since the cost of the dog program, as outlined to him by Van Wesemael, was substantially less than the funding of an additional 100 policemen, as was the original request. It remains unclear just how Van Wesemael had gained experience in training dogs. It can only be assumed from what little information is available on Van Wesemael’s personal life that he was at the time actively engaged in breeding and training Belgian herding dogs and felt that if such dogs could be trained to herd cattle and sheep, they could likewise be easily trained to “herd” criminals. Perhaps he had been experimenting with this theory in private and was convinced that his concept would work. So, in March of 1899, three dogs of the Belgian herding variety, resembling our present-day Bouviers, were acquired for Chief Van Wesemael by the Gent city veterinary officer, and the training of these dogs, along with that of their policemen handlers, was personally begun by Chief Van Wesemael, who eventually turned this training task over to qualified subordinates. Shortly before Christmas of 1899, 10 dog and handler teams were at work. The dogs were initially utilized at night in the city’s high crime neighborhoods, along the waterfront, and in the wooded outlying sections of the city. Their success in diminishing the problem at hand was nearly instantaneous. Night crimes, previously both numerous and serious in these sections of the city, fell off two-thirds simply because the employment of the trained dogs was enough to render doubtful certain nefarious plans.
A black-and-white “naturalistic horror” film starring André Morell, produced by legendary U.K. company Hammer Films about a domestic tabby named Tabitha who witnesses a murder and becomes hell bent on revenge against the greedy evil-doers. Beware the kitty lurking in the darkness! Directed by John Gilling.
A fascinating article from National Geographic about how dogs are helping to stop elephant poaching in Africa…
On October 14, tracker dogs led game scouts to a group of armed poachers who were on the run after shooting and killing a well-known old elephant bull just outside Tarangire National Park. This was the latest in a string of successes by Tanzania’s tracker dogs, which are proving to be an effective weapon in the bloody war on elephant poaching in East Africa.
“Apart from their incredible tracking abilities, dogs are wonderful to work with because they don’t have any political agenda—they can’t be compromised,” said Damien Bell, director of Big Life Tanzania, the conservation organization that manages the Big Life Tracker Dog Unit.
“Our dogs have tracked elephant poachers for up to eight hours at a time or more, through extreme conditions—heat, rain, wetlands, mountains—and still turned up results,” he said. “They love their handlers, and they do a job until the job is done.”
The Big Life Foundation first began using dogs for anti-poaching efforts in 2011, after adopting four Alsatians (German shepherds) from kennels in the Netherlands and honing their skills with the help of Canine Specialist Services International, a dog training facility based in northern Tanzania.
Alsatians were picked over bloodhounds as they have more stamina and can better handle the African heat.
Two of the dogs, Max and Jazz, were stationed in southern Kenya. The other two, Rocky and Jerry, were sent to Tanzania to help out in the Amboseli/Kilimanjaro ecosystem, important elephant habitat that straddles the two countries.
Since their arrival, Rocky and Jerry have helped with countless anti-poaching operations, leading to numerous arrests. In fact, the dog teams have become so popular that Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA), the Wildlife Division (a separate agency), the police, and even the military have requested their assistance.
Bell calls Rocky and Jerry “conservation rock stars.” They’ve served in successful joint operations in the Enduimet Wildlife Management Area (WMA), Burunge WMA, Manyara Ranch, Manyara National Park, Tarangire National Park, Arusha National Park, Kilimanjaro National Park, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and other cross-border areas.