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'Unique bond': Barrie canine unit mourns retired police dog

Thor died Tuesday night; 'He was a serious dog, but he could really switch it off at home. He was a social butterfly,' says longtime handler

Barrie police lost a much-loved member of its team this week.

Thor, a retired police dog who worked with the department's canine unit for eight years, died Tuesday night. He was just shy of turning 13 in March.

His handler, Const. John Lamont, who partnered with the German shepherd from 2011 until 2019, said the relationship between a working dog and their handler is very unique. He said it was something he’d never experienced until he joined the local canine unit nearly 12 years ago.

Thor was what Lamont called a “general service dog” and trained in the detection of human odour, meaning he’d track humans or locate evidence that had human scent on it. He was also trained in drug and firearms detection.

“I don’t think, unless you do it, you can really understand the bond," Lamont told BarrieToday. "I have had pets before, and the bond there is incredible too, but when you have a working partner that is in the vehicle with you and you work 2,000 hours together … operationally to be able to go out together and catch bad guys and find missing people, it’s just a unique bond.

“It’s tough when they are gone.”

Thor wasn’t just his partner, he was also a member of Lamont's family. That said, there are definitely some differences between having a working dog at home compared to having your typical family pet.

“You can’t spoil them and let them eat table scraps and get fat, because they have to go to work,” said Lamont, who added the entire family is grieving the loss. “My wife and kids are pretty upset … (but) everything heals in time.

"Him being my partner, it may sound cold, but I think he’s in a better place now. The last few weeks he kind of deteriorated. I have another dog here that is working, so we just have to keep busy and keep trying to catch bad guys. It’s tough, but … I have lots of good memories.”

Although Thor was “all business” at work, once he got home, Lamont said he would become a completely different dog.

“He was a serious dog, but he could really switch it off at home. He was a social butterfly," the constable said. "If there was anyone around, you couldn’t sit down or he’d drop his (toy) Kong in your lap. He did that to everybody. He was so playful, even until last week.”

At nearly 13 years old, Thor lived a good and long life, the veteran officer acknowledged.

“For a German shepherd, that’s a pretty good life, let alone for a working dog. They punish themselves a lot of the time because they’re the highest-drive animal we can find, and a lot of the time they don’t really have an off switch,” Lamont said.

Next to his death this week, retiring Thor was the single hardest day for them both, he added.

“To tell him he can’t go to work anymore … (he) just didn’t understand that … but there gets to be a point in every working dog’s life where they are simply not as agile and don’t recover as quickly as they once did," Lamont said. 

Police dogs live with their handlers when not on duty. 

“No one else can quite look after them the same way as us," he said. "A lot of them are trained in aggression and biting. German shepherds are such a unique breed and the way they bond to humans is second to none. I have had four of them over my lifetime and it’s just ridiculous the way to bond to you.”

Lamont said Thor encapsulated some of the reasons he joined the canine unit.  

“A love of animals was one … but I just really like to catch bad guys and the dogs are a search tool that way. It’s such a cool job. You’re physical, you’re outdoors … and I just thought this was awesome," he said. 

Even though Thor retired three years ago, Lamont admits he still misses having him as a partner.

“They basically love you more than they love themselves. They work so hard and their work ethic is second to none," he said. "Never did I open the kennel door and ‘say time to go to work’ and he’d say he’d say ‘no, I don’t want to go.’ They’re jumping at the door to go to work. That’s probably the best thing, is that I had to try to keep up with him and not the other way around.”

There are currently three dogs in the Barrie police canine unit, Lamont noted, adding their role as a search tool is unparalleled. 

“Their nose is just so phenomenal. The military has tried to replicate things to search for bombs … and they find the best thing is a dog. They are valuable, not just in Barrie, but across the country," he said. "They’ve located missing people and saved lives — and all they need is a bag of dog food. They don’t ask for much.

“I know in Barrie alone, with our canine team here, we’ve found missing people that if we hadn’t found them they would have died. It’s pretty satisfying that way, and you just can’t duplicate a dog’s nose.”