December 18, 2015 - 10:33 AM
HALIFAX - The RCMP have launched a cuteness offensive in Nova Scotia.
Their weapon of choice? Puppies.
For the next 12 months, the police force will be posting photos, videos and text on Twitter and Facebook to document the progress of their latest recruits: two 10-week-old German shepherd pups.
The dogs — Helo and his brother Hamer (pronounced Hammer) — recently arrived in Nova Scotia from the Police Dog Service Training Centre in central Alberta, the only place in Canada where RCMP police dogs are born and trained.
The centre in Innisfail began its breeding program in 1999 and staff there train both officers and dogs. Once a match is made, it usually lasts for a canine's entire career.
However, before training in Alberta begins, potential police dogs born at the centre are teamed up with so-called imprinters across the country for a 12-month trial period that involves intense training twice a week and plenty of exposure to the public.
"We hope they each succeed in ... becoming a police dog with the RCMP," Const. Mark Skinner said when asked about the online progress reports. "It shows a different side of the RCMP."
One of the imprinters, Const. Richard Bushey, said he and his dog Hamer have been together since Dec. 1.
"He's a joy to be around," said Bushey said as the puppy squirmed at the end of his leash.
"We've done a couple of school talks already in front of small children ... Eventually, as he gets older, we'll get into the tracking side of it and the obedience side. But right now he's just a young pup."
The dog lives with Bushey. Most of the time they spend together will be before and after Bushey's shifts as a general duty officer in Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley.
"It's a 24-hour thing," he said after a news conference at RCMP headquarters in Halifax. "Just look at him. What better job could you have? A partner like this doesn't judge you."
Const. Tim Reid says every two weeks he and his dog Helo take part in a six- to eight-hour training day that includes a heavy focus on tracking skills. And every four months, a fully trained dog handler assesses each dog's progress.
"We teach them to be unafraid of anything that a typical house pet might be afraid to do," says Reid, who is based in Bible Hill, N.S.
Helo is Reid's sixth RCMP puppy. Only one of the five others graduated to become a police dog. One of them died of a heart attack, another returned to Innisfail to breed and two others were sold as pets.
"They lacked the traits we're looking for," says Reid, adding that the Mounties want dogs with "in-your-face attitude."
He says there are about 80 imprinters across the country, all of them hoping to make it into the dog handler program in Alberta. An average of eight RCMP officers get that chance every year, Reid says.
The progress reports on Hamer and Helo will appear on Twitter at @RCMPNS and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/rcmpns
News from © The Canadian Press, 2015