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Gibraltar's police dogs: From 'Swiss army knife' to bombs, drugs and guns

RGP Dog Section by Eyleen Gomez

Following the passing out ceremony for the three new police dogs Flash, Nyx and Gus last week, there are now nine dogs in the Dog Section unit.

Five are for general police operations, two for searching explosives and remaining two for drugs and firearms.

The three new police dogs are all for general police operations and are all German shepherds. Gus is 14 months old and brother and sister Nyx and Flash will be two next month.

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At the passing out ceremony, newly qualified dog handlers PC Victor Harrison with PD Flash, PC Radka Almeida accompanied with PD Nyx and PC Emma Rowbottom together with PD Gus, received certificates of achievement from Commissioner Ian McGrail.

Stig
At the same ceremony PD Stig who officially retired from service last week was presented with a badge of honour from Commissioner McGrail, in recognition of “his valuable contribution in numerous policing operations.”

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Stig by Eyleen Gomez

Stig by Eyleen Gomez

When asked how Stig felt about his retirement, he barked and promptly nudged the Chronicle reporter for a head pat, his old handler and now fully-fledged owner PC Gerry Martinez translated that he was very much enjoying his retirement after an eventful and successful career.

“He’s a good lad, he is enjoying his time at home and we are very lucky with that,” said PC Martinez.

Stig, realises he is now off duty thanks to the training he had received from day one. “The capability to switch them on and off is one of the fundamental things we drill into them during the initial stages.”

“They know when they are on “work” mode and when they are on play,” he added. Indicating that in a patio at New Mole House where there are nine dogs all together none of them pose a threat because they are not always switched on.

Stig and PC Gerry Martinez by Eyleen Gomez

Stig and PC Gerry Martinez by Eyleen Gomez

Mr Martinez unlike Stig has 21 years before he can retire. However, he decided to leave the section along with Stig, “not for any negative reasons I am looking to get promoted, I want to develop a little bit further and I think that will assist me greatly.” He added, “Maybe in the future I can go back to the unit as a line manager, we will see what time brings.”

Flash, Nyx and Gus
These three new dogs have a long way to come in terms of their careers but PC Martinez can already tell that they are looking good for so early on in their career. “Time will tell how much work they will get done, a lot of it is down to the handlers and they can go as far as they choose to go because the work is certainly there. It is how much you choose to exploit that.”

PC Harrison with PD Flash by Eyleen Gomez

PC Harrison with PD Flash by Eyleen Gomez

The three new handlers, PC Rowbottom, PC Harrison and PC Almeida are all experienced police officers but are all new dog handlers. The initial course they have just completed takes from 12 to 16 weeks depending on the progression of the dog. It is an intensive physical course, not only for the handler but also for the dog.

The three are general purpose dogs, “the Swiss army knifes if you were of the dog world,” said PC Martinez.

“They will do all the protection work, they will protect myself, the handler, the police officers, members of the public. In times of public disorder they go out to defend police lines, they protect police buildings and they work in conjunction with special units, the fire arms team, the public order team.”

PC Almeida with PD Nyx by Eyleen Gomez

PC Almeida with PD Nyx by Eyleen Gomez

They also deal with anything to do with a weapon or anyone that is running away from police, searching for missing people and detect human scent giving them the ability to track down an article that has been discarded by an offender.

General purpose dogs are not specifically trained to detect drugs, fire arms, explosives or cash like some of the other dogs.

The pairing up of a dog and their handler depends on various things, PC Martinez explains, “the dogs just like the handlers have their own decision making process so they can decide they don’t like the handle just as much as the handler can decide they do not like the dog.”

“It has also got to do with the instructor who is leading the course and how he thinks physical attributes will compliment that as well. It is not one sole decision, everyone will pitch in to make that decision,” he added.

PC Rowbottom with PD Gus by Eyleen Gomez

PC Rowbottom with PD Gus by Eyleen Gomez

The relationship with between the dog and handler has to be good, as PC Martinez explains sometimes he had spent more time with Stig than he did with his wife and children. Given the relatively small size of the unit the duo could work anywhere from 10 to 13 days in a row. He also admitted that even on his days off he often went down to see Stig at the kennel complex at Devil’s Tower Road camp. The complex is shared with the dog section of the Gibraltar Defence Police.

“It’s not really a job, it’s a lifestyle,” he said.

The dogs can go home with their handler during their time in service if and when the unit sergeant and instructors sees fit for this to happen. “It should never be an issue because all these dogs are very sociable and friendly, so it’s not an issue at all,” said PC Martinez.

There is an issue with the dogs going across the border into Spain because they are working dogs and cannot cross the frontier.

The training of dogs is ongoing with refreshment training taking place every three months. The dogs will attain an advanced level one or two years into the job.

PD Flash by Eyleen Gomez

PD Flash by Eyleen Gomez

The length of career the dog has in the section depends on both the animal and their handler. Police dogs normally retire and are rehoused at the age of seven or eight. In Stig’s case he is a big dog operating in a hot climate, he came from the Yorkshire moors, so it took some time to acclimatise him. Due to his size and the heat it became obvious to PC Martinez that he was getting fatigued, “I think the time was right for him to step down, particularly now that we are running a recruitment process for dog handlers and we have managed to bring these three new handlers in.”

In the line of duty
Sadly, some dogs – just like the officers- can be hurt in the line of duty. However, none of the dogs in Gibraltar’s dog section have ever been killed in the line of duty.

“We operate in quite extreme environments, you look at the worksite on British Lines Road which is adjacent to the Frontier fence we do a lot of work down there countering illicit activity be it smuggling or illegal immigration with people coming through the fence.”

“Obviously it is close proximity to the airfield so it is quite a high risk area for us as we spend a lot of time in there as a deterrent.”

“Plus, we are reacting to people who breach the parameter, there is barbed wire, pitfalls, sharp objects as it is a worksite so in addition to the obvious risks you have from offenders there are secondary risks too,” he added.

There has been members of the dog section who have gone into barbed wire and there have been dogs who have come under attack with people throwing stones at them.

With regards to Stig, in one of his last jobs he was attacked when doing an extraction from a residence. “The individual attacked the dog with a long wooden poll,” said PC Martinez.

“It is the risk that you take, unfortunately it is your role as a dog handler to take that assessment and say ‘You know what it has to be either myself and the dog as opposed to my colleagues’.”

“That is why they call because you are the ones dealing with the dangerous situation. Not that we are saying the dog is dispensable, because he isn’t they are part of the family they are your best friend and you spend more time with them than anyone else on earth, you never want to see them hurt. But unfortunately, if it between a dog and an individual it has to be the dog,” he added.

The course instructor is former police officer Louis Baglietto of Let K9 Services who was contracted to provide the tuition and the dogs.

Police dogs were introduced into the RGP for the first time back in 2012.

The names of the dogs with their respective handlers is as follows: PC Harrison and Police Dog Flash, PC Almeida and PD Nyx, PC Rowbottom and PD Gus, PC Peñalver and PD Prince, PC Olivero and PD Ness, Sergeant Pisarello PDs Alfie and Bella, Sergeant Finlayson PDs Snipe and Spencer.

Pics by Eyleen Gomez