Taz Lee Griffi, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Tavistock resident Mike McKay may not have lost his police dog while doing his job, but he can certainly empathize with the Woodstock officer who did. 

Police service dog Taz, a K9 with the Woodstock Police Service, responded to a call to help the Stratford Police Service with a drug-related investigation on July 3. While conducting a search, Taz and another dog, PSD Striker, both appeared to ingest drugs. Narcan was administered to both, and they were rushed to a veterinarian clinic. Taz did not survive while Striker was released and went home shortly after.

McKay was a member of the K9 unit with the Waterloo Regional Police from 2006 to 2014. He said during his time with a police dog fentanyl was just emerging as an issue among drug users. “We were just really careful. There were actually searches we wouldn’t do if there was fentanyl involved. At that time there wasn’t Narcan, but we did have an injectable just in case the dog ingested something.” 

McKay had the same canine partner for all of the eight years he was in the K9 unit, something that is very rare by today’s standards. “Storm was a Hungarian Shepherd, a working line of dogs. He became part of the family. What people don’t understand is a K9 is an attack dog. Shepherds are the closest animal to a wild dog or a wolf. They are very pack oriented and very loyal to their pack.” He added Storm would see McKay’s family as his pack. “He became very close with us, and he would do anything asked of him. That’s why they are such good police dogs, their loyalty. They are also energetic and extremely brave. That’s what makes them train well too. Try getting a dog to climb a ladder or run through tubes where they can’t see the end. They just trust you.” He added that during his time in the unit, he probably spent more time with Storm than he did with his own family. “That’s the commitment it requires. People think it’s all fun and games, but when you think about it you are relegated to that K9 for the rest of its life, 24 hours a day and seven days a week. So when I was off duty I would have to do something with Storm.”

Storm retired because of age, and he ended up with some disc and other health issues, but McKay said he lived to the age of 13, quite old for a Shepherd. “He lived with us until the day he died. The problem is they are trained to bite people. Either the handler has to keep them, or they need to go to another experienced handler who knows what they are getting. You can’t just give them to anyone. They are professional biters is what they are.” He said he doesn’t know of any handlers who haven’t kept their dog after leaving a police service. McKay also left the unit once Storm retired. “It’s a young person’s thing. If they go over fences, you have to go over fences. If they go through water, you go through water. It’s very physical and that is actually what ends many K-9’s careers. Workplace injuries.” 

Woodstock Police have not released the name of the K9 officer who was Taz’s handler, but McKay said he can appreciate what a devastating loss it would be. “It would be similar to losing your partner. It will be tough on him for sure. He lost his partner, and he was counting on the dog being around for a while. They usually start training when they are a year old, so it was likely right in its prime. They don’t get really good until they are in their third or fourth year.”

Taz joined the Woodstock Police Service K9 Unit and began his training in 2021 and was officially deployed in 2022, allowing Striker to begin transitioning into more of a community service-oriented role. A statement from Woodstock Police said “Taz was young but respected throughout the K9 community, as he had developed into an outstanding detection dog. In his short but successful career, Taz assisted with a number of arrests, drug and weapons investigations, missing persons investigations, and community service engagements. Taz was well-loved and cared for and will be greatly missed by his family, the entire Woodstock Police Service, his K9 friends, and all of the groomers, vets, and therapists who worked closely with him.”

By Lee Griffi, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Aug 03, 2023 at 10:16

This item reprinted with permission from   The Gazette   Wilmot-Tavistock, Ontario

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