Most of the time, police dogs demonstrate their speed, strength and athletic ability while facing down criminals or searching for lost children. But last month a group of police dogs from Canada and the United States gathered in Guelph to compete against each other on a challenging “Iron Dog” course.
Veterinarian Tiffany Durzi, veterinary technician Andrea Alexander and five fourth-year Ontario Veterinary College students were on hand to help out with the event and provide first aid if any dogs were injured.
“The OVC Smith Lane Animal Hospital is the official veterinary clinic for the three police dogs used by the Guelph Police Service,” explains Durzi. “So when Guelph became the host city for this event, police officer Andrew Crowe contacted us to see if we could help.”
Fourth-year OVC students complete a rotation at the Smith Lane Animal Hospital, so those assigned to work with Durzi were given the opportunity to show their support for the police at this event. It was also a chance for them to learn about some unique aspects of veterinary practice.
“Veterinarians in general practice do need to be involved in the community, so they were able to get some experience in participating in these events,” says Durzi. She adds that it was also helpful for them to see the dogs in action. Knowing how active and athletic the animals are would enable the students to provide better care when the dogs come in for check-ups. “They are quite different from the more common couch-potato pet.”
The students’ learning began the morning of the event as they packed up a U of G vehicle using a checklist to ensure they had the required equipment and would be prepared for any problems that arose. “The College of Veterinarians of Ontario has strict regulations about what a mobile veterinary unit has to include,” explains Durzi. “You can’t just throw some things in the van and think you’re ready to go.”
Although none of the dogs were injured in the Guelph event, a dog suffered a back injury at last year’s Iron Dog competition in Michigan. One of the human competitors required first aid this year.
During the event, the dogs and their partners ran a mapped-out route that involved crossing a creek — the water was cold in October — and crawling under bushes. At one checkpoint, the OVC students posted there asked the dog’s partner a trivia question related to canine health; a wrong answer meant the police officer had to drop to the ground to do push-ups before continuing.
At another part of the route, the police officer had to fire a gun at a target. The last stretch of the course required the police officer to carry the dog up a hill, then set it down briefly before ordering the dog to attack a man dressed in a protective suit.
“The students were impressed not only by how fit the dogs were, but by how well-trained they were,” says Durzi.
She and Alexander also took the opportunity to let those present know about the Fitness and Rehabilitation (FAR) services offered at the Primary Health Care Centre. Companion animals are often treated there, and police dogs may particularly benefit from a specialized exercise program.
“These are working dogs and they are often in dangerous environments, so they are at a high risk of injury,” says Durzi. “We have the equipment and skills – both Andrea and I are certified in this area – to help a dog recover and regain fitness.”
The results of the day’s competition were definitely positive for the Guelph police: Charger and his partner, Andrew Crowe, placed first in their age group, and Nitro and his partner, Neil Moulton, placed first in their age group.
Durzi says she has already agreed to help with next year’s Iron Dog contest, to be held in London, Ont., and would be interested in providing veterinary first aid for other events. “We’re always happy to support community events,” she says.