Jagger and Hawkes have been making headlines regularly for the past six months as they responded to more than 79 per cent of Vernon’s total calls in that time.
A change in the way Police Dog Service interventions are recorded explains the surge of calls, Vernon North Okanagan RCMP media relations officer Const. Chris Terleski said. Previously, only instances where PDS successfully established a track were recorded in quarterly reports. Now, any instance where Jagger, Hawkes and their handlers are called out, it is recorded.
In 2020, the PDS members Kevin Rutten and Brady Kyle, and their German shepherds, responded to 58 calls in Vernon and Coldstream, plus another 42 in the Greater Vernon Area. Last year, they were only recorded on a total of 31 occasions.
The fourth-quarter RCMP report from October to December 2020, shows the PDS intervened 12 times in rural North Okanagan and 17 in Vernon and Coldstream.
But that’s just a small glimpse of the work they do.
Vernon North Okanagan has two working PDS teams who rotate shifts and are available on call 24-7, Terleski said.
“Kev and I cover here, Sicamous, Salmon Arm and Revelstoke,” said Kyle. “It’s quite a big area.”
“The next closest handlers are in Kelowna and Kamloops,” Rutten added.
In the past quarter alone, the duo and their dogs tracked a suspect from a stolen vehicle to an Enderby residence; located a high-risk missing youth in rural Spallumcheen; tracked down a suspect hiding behind a tree in attempts to evade arrest after stealing a vehicle in Spallumcheen; and helped in the search and arrest of high-risk offender Robert Heltman, who was wanted on a Canada-wide arrest warrant, on Westside Road.
Rutten said the PDS is a division unlike any other.
“It’s the best job I’ve ever had,” he said. “I’ve been doing it for 16 years.
“You’re outside all the time, you get to ride with your dog, so you have him to keep you company. You go to the best calls, the hot calls, usually the more important calls so you don’t get tied down with more boring stuff,” he said after a successful tracking practice through a Vernon neighbourhood on Dec. 8, 2020. “Plus, you cover an area, which is nice because you get out of town and you can travel a bit.”
Injuries, however, are a common occurrence as handlers follow their dogs over uneven terrain and obstacles while tracking their subject.
“Jumping fences in the dark and tripping into holes — guys do tend to accumulate a lot of injuries throughout their service,” Rutten said.
Before getting the gig of a lifetime, handlers undertake a six-month course in Red Deer to become part of the dog section. Once that’s complete, members are paired with a dog from the breeding program.
Jagger is Rutten’s third dog. He said his two previous were with him seven years each, “which is uncommon.”
“My dog that I have now was being worked by a different handler in the field, but he left the section,” he said. “Jagger was already a trained dog, so I did what they call a re-team course, which is basically a three-week familiarization between you and the dog.”
The two handlers keep their dogs in tip-top shape, running exercises regularly. A track is established by an officer beforehand and the dogs must trace the scent before being rewarded — with some seriously deserved playtime.
“You’ve got to be used to slobber in this field,” Rutten said.
On that chilly December afternoon, Rutten and Kyle ran Jagger and Hawkes across busy streets and through backyards in a Vernon neighbourhood in broad daylight.
“It could be anything,” Terleski explained mid-jog. “We could be running through people’s yards, jumping over fences… It’s not really a normal sight, but for the most part, people kind of understand.”
When homeowners and residents see a dog running through followed by handlers and uniformed officers, people tend to keep their distance, Terleski said.
Terleski noted neighbours are often informed of planned exercises so they’re not so surprised — but, that’s not a courtesy that can often be extended while a real police situation unfolds.
When the work is said and done, Jagger and Hawkes reside with their handlers.
“They are part of their family,” Terleski said.