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It’s a dog’s life

Section:  Annan and Eskdale, Dumfries and West, Lockerbie and Lochmaben, Moffat  | Tags:

EVER wondered what police dogs get up to in their own time? If they like to play, do they like hugs and kisses? I, chief reporter Amanda Kennedy, a dog lover through and through, have always wondered what a working dog’s life fully entails, so last week I asked the expert.

AFTER a hard night shift what could be better than curling up at home in your own bed?

Nothing – that’s the answer. And it’s the same answer that police pups Buck, Mac and puppy Rocky would give you if they could.

For the three hard workers, who are stationed at Dumfries and Galloway Police HQ, know the importance of a good work-life balance.

The trio don’t just work together – covering a patch that stretches from Gretna to Oban – but they live together too with their handler Stewart Rae, his wife, their two children and house dogs Mia and Leo.

Every shift the pooch posse set off from their Heathall home with pack leader Stewart, loaded into their special van, and at the end of every day they journey home with their boss and master.

Stewart said: “They are well and truly part of the family and I love them all.”

Stewart is part of an elite group of around 60 Police Scotland dog handlers, a job that is both demanding and fulfilling.

Handlers don’t just spend their working hours with the police pooches but they must open their homes to them too, spending their days off and holidays side by side and welcoming them into the family dynamic – something Stewart was more than happy to do.

Former joiner Stewart said: “I always wanted to join the police but I have Type 1 Diabetes and up until 11 years ago that was a no go to enter but the minute they changed the rules I applied.

“From then on it became my mission to become a dog handler but jobs are scarce and there are always lots of applicants, it’s a coveted job for a dog lover.”

But three years ago his dream came true and he landed a role, albeit based in Glasgow.

The job came with a three hour daily commute and a change to his family life but he was more than happy to make some sacrifices.

He said: “I never had a dog growing up, I didn’t get my first dog until I was married. My wife loves dogs too, her dad’s a gameskeeper, and she was really supportive and happy to bring the dogs into the family.

“The commute was hard but the job is such a buzz – a real adrenaline rush – and eventually I was transferred to Dumfries and Galloway as a base, which has made life so much easier.”

Discussing his pooches, he said: “Buck is the oldest, he is four. He can break up a fight with just one stare, he’s a lethal weapon, but to me and at home he’s a gentle giant.

“He is exceptional at what he does. There was an incident where a woman contacted police after being told by her son that he planned to kill himself. Buck got to the place where the boy was suspected to be, he went one way when the police wanted to go the other – he knew better and he found the boy. CPR was performed and the boy lived. Buck is a real life saver.”

He added: “Then we have Mac, he’s a springer spaniel and he’s two-years-old. He’s a drug dog and I can’t help but feel proud when Mac discovers drugs even in the most bizarre of places – not a lot gets past Mac.

“He’s always on the go and never stops, he’s a hard worker.”

And last but not least the newest member of the team is spaniel puppy Rocky who is undergoing training to be an explosives dog.

Stewart said: “He’s doing an amazing job.

“The dogs are specially bred in Slovakia by a company named K10 who breed dogs for police forces around Europe and the USA.

“Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, a dog just isn’t suited to working life, they get bored and unfortunately they have to be re-homed, but luckily Rocky’s really taken to it. He’s our new team member.”

But just like humans, dogs too also retire.

Buck, who has the most demanding job, will retire age seven, while his adopted brothers will work until they are about 10-years-old.

Often when a police dog retires, they’ll move away from their handler on to pastures new but Stewart could never say bye to his pack.

He said: “It doesn’t feel like work when I’m with them. This is my dream job and the they are my family, I would never be able to say goodbye so when the time comes for Buck to retire in three years he’ll be spending his glory years at my home, our home, while I go out and do the hard work!”

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