It’s 2 a.m., and Conservation Officer and K9 Handler Cpl. Jamie Chartrand is bolted awake to his phone ringing. He hurries out of bed and opens the truck for his furry coworker, Jaks, to jump inside. Jaks has excitement in his eyes—this is his time to work.
That will likely be the hardest part of Jaks’ retirement, said Chartrand, is knowing he won’t be coming along when those calls come in. It will be a complete change in routine.
“He’ll get used to it, I think he’s starting to slow down a little bit. You wouldn’t know it because he’s got just as much speed as a young dog still. I think he’s going to enjoy retirement, though,” he said.
“I don’t think he realizes he doesn’t have a job yet.”
Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Environment announced Jaks’ retirement on Friday. Chartrand has adopted him, which is common for most handlers.
The Belgium Malinois will be 10 years old next month, and has spent the last eight years assisting with investigations in the ministry’s different districts.
Jaks will be replaced with a young female German Shepherd named Tai.
Chartrand said the pair have been getting along well. Like a typical German Shepherd, Tai likes to herd her new brother around the yard. But when Jaks has had enough, he simply lays down and chews on his ball, and Tai eventually gets the hint to stop.
Tai has now completed her training to start working as a conservation officer service dog. Chartrand said she was validated as meeting provincial standards in mid-May, and he started training her intensively in March.
He received her from a local trainer last September, though, and she’s been coming along on calls ever since.
Being a handler for the past 14 years, Chartrand was able to train her a little quicker than the average service dog.
“She’s a super, really, really good tracking dog, so that’s why we selected her. She really enjoys tracking—tracking is locating people, searching and finding people,” explained Chartrand.
But tracking down poachers or illegal hunters isn’t the only part of the job. Chartrand said Tai still has a little bit of work to do in detection, which is mainly searching for the scent of gun powder to locate pieces of evidence.
They can find that evidence hours, or even days, after someone left it there. One dog can search an area several times faster than 10 humans can, he said.
When the dog finds something, they’ll show it.
“The dog will be head and nose down, he’ll be searching back and forth. The dog learns to use the wind,” said Chartrand.
“When the dog actually locates something of interest…the dog will actually alert on that, so you’ll see a head snap, you’ll see the dogs breathing increase, you’ll see the dog’s head moving back and forth trying to find the source, tail wagging.”
Once they find evidence, they sit.
Chartrand said they train do these things every day so that when a live scenario comes in, the dogs can detect or track in the exact same way.
Chartrand also carries out regular conservation officer tasks, enforcing the Wildlife, Fisheries and Environmental Management and Protection Acts, to name a few.
He’s the Ministry of Environment’s only K9 handler, so he’s constantly travelling around the province. The team also assists the RCMP and local police services.
He said the usual duties aren’t actually his favourite memories with Jaks. What he’ll remember the most is how friendly he was at educational events at schools or banquets.
“The best thing I can think of with this dog is his ability to be social and come out in crowds of people and show everybody that these dogs are really, really social animals,” said Chartrand.
“They’re not the stereotypical mean, fierce kind of animal that people seem to think they are.”
It will take a while for Jaks to adjust to the retired life, said Chartrand, but he’s going to love napping in the shade whenever he pleases and sneaking a few more treats than usual.
In the meantime, Tai is ready to hit the road.