Sitting in an office at the Greater Manchester Police dogs unit, waiting for Sergeant Gary Mitchell, I noticed something rather inspiring. On the wall was a badly photocopied piece of paper bearing a picture of a German Shepherd. Underneath the picture were details of some sort of party, meeting place, dress code, start time and so on.
What’s the occasion? Sean O'Meara wondered.
It turns out the dog in the picture is Monty and it’s his leaving do, all are welcome.
They obviously do things properly in Manchester. Having a leaving party for a retiring police dog (who would be spending his retirement in Canada incidentally) is just one of the things I picked up on during my day at Hough End training centre, which illustrated just how much respect and affection the dogs have from their handlers and the unit.
Upon meeting Sgt Gary Mitchell, explosives detection and patrol dog handler of sixteen years and now continuation training Sergeant, I am prepared to ask a few key questions, take a few snaps and leave with enough information to piece together Gary’s average day. Little did I know that I would soon be handling enough Semtex to destroy the entire building, coming face to face with some of the most impressive and yes I admit, scary looking patrol dogs I have ever seen, before witnessing the most impressive feat performed by a dog since Lassie rescued little Timmy from the mine shaft.
As we walked to the kennels to meet some of his ‘colleagues’, Gary explained how he came to be paired up with one of his current partners in crime prevention. “Gemma was a gift dog who came in just before Christmas about five years ago. She’s an English Springer Spaniel. I got a call asking me if I could take her home over Christmas, because we don’t like to leave young dogs on their own. During that time a vacancy came up in the explosives detection department, so I put Gemma on the course and she passed with flying colours. She was a complete natural. She’s lived and worked with me ever since and she’s now coming up to her sixth birthday”
As Gary waxed eloquent about Gemma, I couldn’t help wondering how hard it must be putting your best friend through manoeuvres where one wrong step could end up in tragedy.
Five Facts About Greater Manchester's Explosive Detection Dogs
1. The dogs have been trained using live explosives. Semtex and plastic explosives have been routinely handled by the officers in the day to day training of the dogs.
2. Greater Manchester’s explosives detection dogs have never (at the time of original publishing), in the history of the police force, failed to detect live explosives in the public domain.
3. On average, a dog’s working life is seven years. Upon retirement the vast majority of the dogs continue to live with their handlers.
4. During the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, containers that had travelled around the globe were identified by sniffer dogs as having explosives on board. It was revealed after inspections that the containers had been used to move explosive material up to three years prior, and the dogs still picked up on the scent.
5. Explosives detection dogs are trained to remain entirely still the second they pick up a scent. This is so they do not disturb what could be a large explosive device. This is called passive indication and is also used by cadaver detection dogs.