She's got a nose for the job

She's a female icon in a field dominated by males, now entering the final stages of her illustrious career after proving the naysayers wrong.

But on a recent afternoon, Cinder the police dog was more interested in bounding after a neon orange ball in a field in the St. Boniface industrial park than basking in any visitor's attention.
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Cinder is an eight-year-old Belgian Malinois who tracks down criminals with her handler, Const. Rob Tighe of the Winnipeg Police Service Canine (K9) Unit.

One of 10 police dogs with the K9 unit, her specialty is chasing down suspects by their scent or by disturbed vegetation they leave behind.

The process of following a specific scent from one destination to another is called tracking.

"It's a male-dominated profession," said Const. Rob Tighe, Cinder's handler.

"Anywhere where someone is running from the scene of a crime, we would be called to assist."

Cinder's a tracker who's caught bank robbers and car thieves, averaging about 30 arrests per year.

Beyond finding criminals running away from police or evidence they drop, she can also sniff out drugs such as cocaine or ecstasy.

"She's got a great personality as far as being friendly, but she can turn it on or off at any time," said Tighe.

It hasn't always been easy.

When she was born, Cinder was going to be a breeder for the Canine Unit.

Eventually, Cinder bowled over the officers by her skill at picking up scents and tracking them.

Cinder's up to 30 per cent smaller than a male Malinois, but she's got a dominant personality and a determined nature.

There was a period when Cinder was bounced from duty as a tracker and trained as a search-and-rescue dog.

Thanks to Tighe -- who asked to train with her and had her reinstated as a tracker -- the 58-pound dog earned her way back into the unit and now has a marquee status due to her 2005 appearance on the Life Network program Dogs with Jobs. She's also the only Canadian police dog profiled in a forthcoming book called Badge on My Collar II: To Serve with Honour. The American book contains an entire chapter dedicated to Cinder's exploits, including the time she found a restaurant robber who'd fled to a Winnipeg home and pretended to be sleeping there.

Tighe said the most common misconception about police dogs such as Cinder is that they're cuddly. Not so.

"Our dogs are trained to apprehend criminals so they're trained to bite," he said.

Before Cinder tracks, she's outfitted with $2,000 worth of body armour made especially for police dogs to help protect them from weapons or physical attacks.

Trackers like Cinder are trained to pick up on adrenaline, a "fear scent" Tighe said suspects give off.

They pursue suspects, corner them, and can bite them if they refuse arrest, said Tighe.

Cinder also alerts officers to abandoned evidence like discarded clothing or weapons.

The Canine Unit also has three detector dogs, animals that are trained specifically to sniff out explosives.

When she's not working, Tighe said Cinder is "sociable" and loves to play.

He expects Cinder will have one or two more years as a tracker if she remains in good health.

The officer and Tighe spend hours together each day honing her tracking skills.

Cinder is an outdoor dog who sleeps at Tighe's home, and she'll continue living with Tighe when she retires.

"This is her life," he said.

"(Your dog) truly becomes a partner."

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