Tracking team take bite out of crime

In the case of Const. Troy Raddatz and his dog Argo, man's best friend has turned out to be a pretty good friend for the community as well.

Raddatz and Argo are currently in Drayton Valley as Raddatz waits for his home in Breton to sell. Last October he was transferred to the Lloydminster detachment, but because he still has a house here he has been giving the Drayton Valley detachment some extra man, and canine, power.

Having Argo and Raddatz in town to help out with some of the investigations going on has been a definite bonus for the officers in town. Argo has already helped to crack a few cases with his keen senses and even keener nose.

Three were arrested after Argo was called in to track after a vandalization in town. The German Shepard had no problem finding the culprits. He has also helped in a major case in a manhunt in Mayerthorpe. A break and enter had occurred and Raddatz and Argo were called in to help find the person responsible. The chase took them through the woods but Argo was able to find the man, who was later charged with attempted murder.

A break and enter attempt at the Cynthia Gas Plant also had Argo in to find those involved.

Raddatz, who is technically being paid by the provincial government and able to work independently of the detachment, has also done checkstops. One such checkstop with Argo resulted in the recovery of an illegal firearm and a small amount of drugs.

Sergeant Gerald Ouellet says having a dog at the detachment has been nice. He said having a dog nearby means quicker response times in investigations, it also means they are more likely to apprehend the people being sought by RCMP and it also helps with locating missing persons.

"It's one of the major benefits," said Ouellet.

He said that while Raddatz is only here temporarily it has been nice having him. However, whether Drayton Valley will eventually get a police dog is something that will have to be discussed with the town and the county.

Ouellet said it can be more costly because not only is the officer being paid for, but also the dog.

The dog lives with its dog handler and has very limited access to other animals and other people. Raddatz has Argo in a kennel at his home and says Argo comes only to him for attention and rewards. He said Argo has very limited interaction with his children or the family dog because that would mean Argo would not need Raddatz for his socialization or rewards.

Raddatz and Argo have only been together for around eight and a half months but Raddatz says they already have a very good relationship. Both of them are training every day that they are not helping with any investigations.

"We're pretty good buddies," said Raddatz.

It was quite a process for Raddatz to get the position of dog handler with the RCMP. Having only been an officer for six years, Raddatz says he is very junior to have achieved the title of dog handler.

In order for him to be allowed to work with the dogs he had to volunteer thousands of hours as a quarry, which is the person that lays the tracks for the dogs to train on, and in raising German Shepard pups.

He said he was working as a quarry within the first year of joining the force and was soon after raising pups. In total he spent five years as quarry and four years raising pups. Raddatz estimated he did 1,000 to 2,000 volunteer hours to the process of becoming a dog handler.

"You have to be very dedicated to the program," said Raddatz.

He said the reason he got into the profession was because he likes to be able to work independently, and coming from a ranching background working with animals is a natural thing for him.

Dog handlers also get called in on all of the high-risk calls, which makes his work interesting.

"You are always in the action," said Raddatz.

He and Argo go through vigorous training on a daily basis, with Raddatz running up to 15 kilometres a day training with Argo or acting as a quarry for someone else training their animal. He said the main purpose of the training is to help the communication between Argo and himself. He needs to be able to understand what Argo is saying to him.

But first and foremost Raddatz says he gets Argo to the location he is needed.

"Firstly, I am a chauffeur," said Raddatz.

He said that Argo can help with two different areas: small article searches, such as shell casings and other small items in a predetermined area, or large article searches, such as missing persons.

He also can sniff out 18 different explosives. Raddatz says Argo can track anything that has a human scent.

For Raddatz the best part of working with an animal is their enthusiasm for the job.

"He wants to be nowhere else but with me working," said Raddatz. "I have a partner who is happy every day."

Argo's eventual retirement will depend on his health and age and Raddatz says that once Argo has to retire he will be able to select a home for Argo. He says police dogs adapt to families very well as a rule. However, the personality of the dog is different every time and just like any other animal they may be more or less suited to homes with children or other animals.

He said they are not mean dogs, but owners will need to understand that they will bite if they perceive a threat, and it will not be a playful bite, it will be big, says Raddatz.

He said normally the dogs do not have a problem with settling into a domestic life; usually it is the handlers that have a hard time.

"I think it's harder on the handler than on the dog," said Raddatz.

Because of the amount of situations that dog handlers experience with their dogs they can become very close so it's hard to say goodbye to that kind of friend, says Raddatz.

When Argo retires he says he will not be keeping him because it would be too hard to give Argo the attention he would want and train a new pup. Raddatz says when he retires from the RCMP he will likely keep the dog that he retires with.

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