WEYBURN – An energetic 16-month-old Belgian Malinois, named Oakley, arrived at the Weyburn Police Service on Jan. 7, and Const. Maralee McSherry has been teamed up as her handler.
This is the first police dog for the WPS, and Oakley and Const. McSherry will be undergoing an intensive eight-week training course starting in mid-February in Winnipeg to get her ready for service as a drug detection dog.
For Const. McSherry, “having Oakley is a dream come true”, as she loves animals and her career as a police officer, and has begun the bonding process with Oakley until they are able to go for training to start around mid-February.
“I’ve loved animals since I was a child. My parents thought I would be a veterinarian. To be honest, being chosen as a K9 handler fulfills my dream of being a police officer and of working with animals,” said Const. McSherry.
She has been an officer in Weyburn for six years, originally coming from Saskatoon, and has taken a number of courses through the Saskatchewan Police College to help with her duties.
Chief Jamie Blunden pointed out that Const. McSherry had originally brought up the idea with him to have a police dog, so he looked into the possibility, including what would be required and what funding was needed.
He was able to obtain a grant of $29,000 from the province’s Criminal Forfeiture Fund to help pay for the dog and the training, and going forward, the Weyburn Police Service will do some fundraising to help pay ongoing costs, such as vet fees and food for Oakley.
Fundraising ideas include putting out a calendar with business sponsorship, and possibly also selling a K9 coin, which was an idea from Const. McSherry.
She and three other officers took part in selection process with a panel that included Chief Blunden and two others, where their training and experience was part of the criteria along with providing a detailed explanation why they would like to be a K9 handler.
“Maralee really put a lot of effort into it. We did an interview with them, and all four went to Winnipeg and underwent testing to see which one would be the best candidate,” he said.
When Chief Blunden formerly worked with the Winnipeg Police Service, he had occasion to work with the K9 unit and the tactical squad, including working with “Judge”, a 10-year police dog veteran (now deceased) who is also Oakley’s father.
Knowing the value that a good police dog brings to police work, he also liked how having a dog for drug detection will work with Weyburn’s anti-drug strategy, both in the enforcement end of it and in promoting greater awareness in the public of drug issues. He also knew that Winnipeg had a good breeding program, and they were able to obtain Oakley through that program.
“I know the blood-line is unbelievable,” he added.
Once the eight-week training course is done, Oakley will need to be validated here to meet the standards set for police dogs in Saskatchewan, noted the chief.
Meanwhile, Oakley lives fulltime with Const. McSherry and her family, and the young dog has fit right into her family.
Her kids love Oakley, she said, as well as finding a new friend in Beaumont, the black Lab who is the Victim Services dog, and her handler Tara Busch, victim services coordinator for southeast Saskatchewan.
As a demonstration of Oakley’s abilities, she hid a rubber ball chew toy in a desk drawer, and Oakley was able to not only sniff out its location but was persistent in digging into the drawer to get it.
In training, Oakley will be taught to specifically sniff for drugs in a vehicle or in a building, said Const. McSherry, and so will be in on drug searches in homes as well as with highway patrol to sniff for drugs in stopped vehicles.
She noted that if other agencies, like the RCMP, need a dog for drug detection in an investigation, they’ll be able to call on her and Oakley if they don’t have access to their own K9 officer.