The following excerpt from “The Dog Lover Unit: Lessons in Courage from the World’s K9 Cops” (St. Martin’s Press, 2017) has been reprinted with permission from the publisher.
“Then the dog man shows up a week later. I said, ‘So you get to hunt people, drive your own wagon, the dog’s your partner?’ I said, ‘Can I go to Peace River and train with you?’ I spent four days at this dog man’s house. I’ll never forget the first bite. I was scared, but I was excited. I just couldn’t get enough. I wish I would have known that before.
“I helped to raise five dogs. You pay for your own gas, you do twelve-hour shifts, then it’s nighttime, you take the dog out for a walk quickly. Then you lay tracks and get bit.”
“How did you find the strength to do what you had to do?” “You don’t feel invincible, because you know people get hurt, but you feel ‘I’m not going to get hurt out of this, I’ll come out of it okay.’ When I first got into the RCMP, I only wanted to catch bad guys. I thought my dog, Reiker, was invincible. He was one hundred and seven pounds of solid German shepherd. We were catching people left, right, and center. Anybody with weapons, he’d take them down. “As time got along, I realized, ‘Dogs are like a bad date, they never leave you.’ They are always there. With Reiker, he was handler-soft, he’d go on his belly if I yelled at him, but with everyone else he’d go bonkers. I remember people saying, ‘My god, he’s got a bite like an alligator.’ Once on a training I saw a guy put on two arm guards.
I said, ‘What are you doing?’
“‘I’ve heard about your dog’s reputation,’ he told me. Some of the quarries would scream because of the pressure of the bite.”
Lewis keeps talking. The cat curls softly around my arm.
“Once we were out on a call and someone shouted to me, ‘Doug, he ran down that alley!’ So I go, I’m circling the dog, but he’s not picking anything up. I soon realized that it was the next alley over. We go, I’m yelling at my dog, he’s down on his belly, then I circled him again. I realized boom, he gave it to me. We got the guy. I realized my dog will give it to me if it’s there. I don’t need to yell. You can’t force your dog. You have to make it fun. Make it bubbly.”
Make it bubbly. That expression stays with me. The hardest work in the world, where lives are at stake, and to get your dog to do his best work, you have to make it all a big game.
People sought out Doug Lewis for training advice when they were raising dogs and working as quarries, hoping to be chosen as police dog handlers.
“I wanted to see a real commitment to dog services. You gotta be a go-getter.”
Doug keeps the stories coming. “Once we were on a domestic violence call. It had nothing to do with dogs. Her husband had threatened her before he left, said he’d come back and kill her, then he drove away and she called us. My dog started walking around the house and all of a sudden I see the tail wagging. Then I hear this SCREAM! My dog’s got the guy in the shoulder blade. Her husband had come back. He had a gun lined up to shoot the policeman that was coming up the walk. I had shivers going down my spine. The other cop said, ‘That dog saved my life.’”