Searching for scents

Rosie's job is a grim one.

Rosie is a Chocolate Labrador, trained to sniff out the dead. She's one of seven cadaver dogs used by the OPP.

She finds bodies hidden by brush, buried under the ground and even submerged in water.

Her work brings grieving families a lot of closure.

"She's found a lot of people," said her handler, Const. Don Shearer.

It's Shearer's job to care, train and handle Rosie while she works.

He also handles Baron, a five-year-old German shepherd.

Baron is a "general service dog," trained to track people who are lost or running from police, search for drugs and is a use-of-force option for officers.

Baron's trained to chase after suspects, but Shearer said he won't be unnecessarily exposed to harm.

Sending him after someone is akin to police using a weapon, he explained.

"It would be no different if I took out my baton and hit someone."

When Shearer brings Baron out onto the lawn outside the OPP detachment, Baron's ears perk up, he looks at Shearer and quickly obeys each command he's given.

Shearer hides a small bag of marijuana on the property, and Baron begins his search.

When he enters the area where Shearer's hidden the bag, his ears shoot up. He begins to sniff harder.

Shearer's trained to recognize Baron's signals, and knows that Baron's close to finding what they're looking for.

When Baron finds the bag, his tail wags, he scratches at the ground, and he looks to Shearer for his reward, which is a scratch behind the ears and a few minutes with a toy.

"It's the most rewarding job, and the most frustrating job, all in one," he said.

There's no better feeling than uniting a lost or missing person with their family.

But Shearer and Baron could spend hours in the woods, trying to pick up a lost scent.

Shearer has been a canine officer for 12 years. Rosie is his first cadaver dog, and Baron is his third general service dog.

Shearer works regular shifts like other OPP officers, but he's always on call, could be sent anywhere in the province, and spends a lot of time working with the OPP's emergency response team and drug unit.

"I can easily say that I spend more time with my dogs than I do my wife," he said.

The OPP has a total of 27 canine handlers. With 5,500 uniform officers in the service, there's usually a lot of competition when a canine position opens up.

Shearer has been an officer for 26 years, and said he wanted to work in the canine unit since his career began.

Officers who have worked for a minimum of five years can apply to a canine position after getting recommendations from his or her supervisors.

That's followed by a series of tests and a psychological exam, Shearer explained.

Applicants are then whittled down to 10 or 12 officers. That group then goes through a 10- day selection course.

It's 10 days of sleep deprivation, obstacle courses, compass work and more tests, Shearer said, and candidates are given a dog to care for during that time.

"The physical component is really big," he said.

The process is meant to separate officers who want to be part of the canine unit from those who are suited to the job.

Someone can hide his or her personality for two to three days, he said, but during the last few days, exhaustion sets in and a person's true nature comes through.

Both dogs stay with Shearer, who takes care of their feeding and veterinary care.

He'll likely look after both dogs for their entire lives.

Because Baron's trained to be aggressive he'll likely never be a house pet. Dogs like Baron usually stay with their handlers after their careers. Baron will work until he's about seven to nine years old.

At 10, Rosie is nearing the end of her career. With a grin, Shearer said he'll also likely continue to take care of her after she's no longer working

sdeeth@peterboroughexaminer.com

No comments: