One night in the summer of 2012, Const. Andre Almeida was in Central Saanich with his police service dog Conan, tracking a bad guy who had run from the cops multiple times and managed to get away.
Conan tracked the man to a building on an acreage. Wading through the darkness, another officer went inside, only to report there was nobody there.
When Almeida and Conan went inside the building, however, the dog sprung into action.
“Out of nowhere, he jumped up over my shoulder and grabbed a guy hiding above me,” said Almeida, a Victoria police officer.
“It was one of those moments where you pause for a second and realize how badly it could have gone for me.”
“But my dog was doing what he trained to do, which was protect me.”
During their six years of service together, there were many more occasions where Conan became the hero, protecting Almeida so he could go home to his family at the end of the day.
Throughout his career as a police service dog, the seven-year-old black German shepherd has located missing children, found a homicide suspect in Esquimalt, helped arrest a high-profile suspect twice and has been involved in more than 120 apprehensions.
But in the middle of this year, Almeida noticed Conan was limping after one of his training days. He was taken to the vet for an examination, which revealed that both of his knees were injured from his years of service.
Conan retired in August — four months earlier than expected. For Almeida, the news came as a blow.
“It was definitely a sad moment because it was coming to an end quickly, but my biggest concern was more for the health of the dog at that point,” said Almeida, who's now retired from the canine unit and gone back to regular patrol — a change he's still getting used to.
“For the first couple of weeks, it was a little weird getting into the car and pulling up to deal with people without a barking dog in the back. Last week I had a chase and my first instinct was to get the dog, then realized he's not there anymore. It definitely is a mind shift and I miss him. It's weird for me.”
When Almeida was hired as a Victoria police officer in December 2003, his goal was to become part of the four-member canine unit. Nine years later he finally reached that goal. It was an achievement he describes as amazing.
But the relationship with his new furry partner wasn't always rainbows and sunshine. In the beginning, Conan was a very strong-willed dog and a difficult family pet due to his high energy. There was a lot of butting heads, noted Almeida, as he tried to establish himself as the alpha.
Eventually the pair worked through their differences, creating a special bond. Each night, Conan came home with Almeida and has become a member of his family.
“You end up spending more time with your dog than you do with your own wife. They are really truly your partner. Everywhere I went he was with me,” said Almeida. “He's the happiest dog in the world just to see me.”
A typical day for Almeida and Conan often began with a lot of basic training that involved tracking exercises to sharpen and enhance his skills.
On average, the pair responded to three to four calls a shift, with Almeida putting his trust into his dog as they ventured into the unknown.
Conan has since had surgery on his knees and is recovering at his family's home, but his time spent as a police dog has not been forgotten. Whenever Conan sees Almeida in uniform, he howls and cries afterwards for a couple of hours.
A new handler and dog has already been selected to take their place. The pair are currently going through the four-month training course before they hit city streets.