Police dog story.

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PD 576 Dante (an abridged version).

I’d always loved dogs, when I saw the RAAF employed dog handlers, I joined up. The year was 1975, I stayed for 25 years, finally being kicked out in 2000 with a Spent body. What a ride that was!

After finishing boot camp I was shipped of to Toowoomba to start my police dog handler course. My first dog was Carl, a small jet black dog of indeterminate breed, however, he came down with a skin condition and was withdrawn from course two weeks in. Enter Dante. Dante proved a good, if obstinate, learner and so we made it to the grad parade. I achieved high 90s in weekly tests for theory lessons and so with Dante doing extremely well in field exercises we were awarded Duxes of course on our pass out parade.

Once course finished, we were posted to Townsville in North Queensland. Being an aggressive dog, Dante was always challenging me in the first six months we were together. One morning around 2.00 am I stopped behind Townsville radio section, just past a roll a door to do some training, Dante had had enough and flew up the lead at my face. I managed to duck back and started swinging him around to get him off me, as I’d done dozens of times. This time however, the lead snapped and we both flew backwards. Dante was first up and jumped at my face again, I swung my hand up to deflect him and he latched onto my wrist. I put my other hand in his mouth to force his jaws apart and get my wrist out. That worked well, except, he now had my other hand in his mouth. In desperation I hauled him into the air and started slamming him against the wall. Eventually he let go, dropped to the ground and renewed his attack, puncturing my hands and arms in multiple places. I don’t remember him latching on to my upper arms, but, bite them he did, possibly because the upper arms are quite fleshy, whereas the hands and wrists are quite scarce of flesh. I remember quite vividly this attack, sometimes standing sometimes rolling around on the ground, Dante boring into my left arm, then my right, then my left again. Leaving puncture wounds and tears on both arms from fingers to shoulders. Eventually, I gained the upper hand, straddled him, grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and started slamming his head into the ground. This appeared to do the trick, Dante quit the attack and I let him go. With two badly punctured and bloody arms and hands, I carefully grabbed his collar and nervously led him back to the guard room. I locked Dante in the dog box by the front gate and walked over to medical for treatment. After explaining to the Medical Orderly what happened, she scrubbed my wounds, flushed out the holes and bandaged both arms from fingertip to shoulder. My brand new stainless Tissot watch I’d bought in Toowoomba six months prior had a neat hole, straight through, front to back, courtesy of a canine tooth. It didn’t keep good time after that. 45 years on I still remember every second of our little discussion and still bear the scars. Leadership issues had been resolved, despite me coming off the worst and Dante suffering no injuries at all, he now accepted me as boss and never so much as growled at me ever again. So, I guess it was more about who gave up first, not who came off worst! Many years later, while serving as an instructor at the dog school, I came across Dante’s recruiting papers, and lo and behold, Dante was donated because he was a dog killer, three of them.

Life as a doggie is just plain boring, to counter the boredom I started teaching Dante some extra tricks, a dozen or so, including searching for different scents. Dante was achieving good results in his monthly assessments, he just needed a little touch up to gain the extra few points. I’d only been at Richmond for a short while when the OIC (Officer In charge) toured Australia assessing all RAAF police dogs. Dante’s turn came around and he worked magnificently, I couldn’t see Dante when he attacked the intruder as it was a dark moonless night, but I heard the intruder gasp as Dante hit and bit. Dante won Top Dog of the RAAF that year and has his name, and mine inscribed on the perpetual Perret Trophy. The trophy was awarded on the next OC’s parade, my FSGT accepting the award on my behalf as the OC (Officer Commanding) wasn’t keen on shaking my hand with Dante next to me.

The CO had heard about Dante’s scenting abilities and so Dante and myself were helicoptered down to the Nowra Navy base where we were to search the rooms of personnel living on base. Dante and I were shipped off to Nowra twice, Holsworthy Army Base once and we did one final raid on my home base. Dante had more finds than the detector dog that accompanied us.

Around the same time there were a number of inter unit competitions. Dante won top dog easily, second place going to my basic course instructor and his dog Gunther, a mammoth dog weighing in at 60kgs. We were entered in a further two competitions, Dante winning both, my instructor coming in at second place.

Standing around on static guard duties, no one seemed to notice the dog beside you and would approach much closer than you’d like. Most of the time you’d see yourself backing away as they approached or putting your hand up and telling them to stop. People just didn’t realise the dog wouldn’t necessarily be happy to see them. Early 80s, I was called in off stand down for duties at the Air movements Hangar. Some Vietnamese refugees had been flown in so a few dog handlers were called in for security. I was standing in the middle of the hangar watching the refugees and drivers moving about when a taxi driver approached, I put up my hand and told him to stop, giving plenty of room between us, knowing that Dante would fly up him as soon as he got too close or opened his mouth. I think Dante took great delight in frightening the hell out of any unsuspecting people nearby, everyone has to have a hobby I suppose. Anyway, open his mouth the taxi driver did and with that Dante flew up him, grumbling and growling. In a flash, the taxi driver leapt back, pulling a butterfly knife from his pocket, spinning and releasing the blade. He looked at me and said ‘Jesus Christ mate, that’s not a dog it’s a fu(#!ng lion’. I never had any more approaches from anyone that night.

During my time with Dante I had made it a habit to check on Dante first and last thing of every shift. One afternoon shift I found Dante swollen up like a toad and very restless. I rushed him to the vet where the vet diagnosed gastric torsion. At the time gastric torsion was thought the result of exercising after feeding, certainly I have seen enough cases to concur with this hypothesis. It is a terrible thing for a dog to come down with, leading to cardiac arrest and loss of brain function and death if not caught early.

The Vet operated, while I watched, took the twist out, removed a cancerous section of intestine, sewed his stomach in place so it wouldn’t twist again and we went home. A few months later, the same thing happened, I found Dante in the kennel uncomfortable and bloated. I rushed him to the vet but Dante was 10 at this stage, a great age for a PD so another operation was ruled out. Luckily, the Vet was extraordinary in his knowledge base so he anesthetised Dante, then manipulated his body, bending, twisting, massaging and managing to remove the twist, I’ve never heard of anyone doing this before, anyway the result was plain, the stomach had been freed. Another few months passed and the same thing happened again, I found Dante uncomfortable and bloated in his kennel so I rushed him to the Vet again. It was plain, Dante now had a weakness in this area and thus this problem would continue. I had been lucky to catch him early three times so far, but I simply wasn’t willing to risk missing his twisting gut a fourth time, allowing him to die in absolute agony over a period of hours so insisted the Vet put him down. Dante died in my arms, grumbling and growling at the Vet (as it should be) at 1430hours on 2 December 1982.

Dante lives on in my memory, my dreams and on my study wall, flanked by Shinta and Chum, my two subsequent police dogs. Somewhere in this universe I know all three are happily romping through the grass, chasing sticks and butterflies and doing things dogs love to do, awaiting our reunion.

Dante, a better friend to me than I was to him: I did it all for the glory and recognition. Dante did it because he was just a dog – man’s best friend.

A dog will give you many of the best days of your life, and one of the worst.

RIP Dante PD576.
 

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I roomed with a photographer back in the 70s, and he took many, many pictures of Dante. the one of him flying through the window obstacle was done with a blown out egg shell in his mouth. His favourite toy was a car tyre, I'd roll it for him and he'd pick it up and run back with it for me to roll it again. I once threw a half brick into a coconut tree trying to dislodge a coconut, Dante caught it and dropped it at my feet waiting for me to throw it again, if you could throw it, he could fetch it. Dante loved the the water, the diving picture was taken off an 8' high river embankment.
 

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