KUALA LUMPUR: When he goes on leave, handler P Ilango badly misses his companion of eight years, Leike, and the feeling is mutual.
“When I come back, Leike’s so happy to see me. I treat him as my child. If he’s naughty, I scold him, but he works well.”
Leike is a Police K9 dog, and the work he does is far from child’s play. His job includes bringing down fleeing bad guys, rooting out narcotics and searching for missing people.
Unit chief M Saravanan told FMT that as well as tracking down the living, K9 is sometimes tasked with sniffing out human remains.
“There was a case where a murder suspect confessed to a murder committed more than three years before. By then he could not remember exactly where he had buried his victim. The K9 unit was called in to help find his victim’s body.
“They searched a vast hilly forest around Seremban, and even after so long, and so much rain and growth, the dog still found the body.
“To us, all the dogs who have served are heroes.”
The K9 unit was officially established over 50 years ago with six German Shepherds, but Saravanan said dogs actually served with the police force as far back as 1957, when they helped track communist guerrillas.
The team has now grown to nearly 150 dogs, including German Shepherds, Belgian Shepherds and Labradors, primarily brought from Germany and the Czech Republic.
All the dogs arrive with no prior training and spend 16 weeks at the Police Training Centre (Pulapol) in Kuala Lumpur.
The course they go through is no walk in the park. By the end they are able to follow 20 commands in Bahasa Melayu.
On command, they can locate anything from a drop of dried blood to a trace of narcotics or explosive residue.
After they graduate, the dogs are assigned to one of 155 K9 handlers in one of 20 sections nationwide.
When not collaring criminals, the dogs also carry out other duties such as crowd control, search and rescue, and patrolling in public.
“We do patrol with our K9s. The public likes to see them, and some even want to touch the dogs and take pictures with them,” said Saravanan.
“Patrols also prevent crime. So far no one has tried committing any crimes in front of the dogs; I don’t think anyone dares,” he quipped.
It’s difficult to disagree, as these dogs are capable of a ferocious bite and once their jaws are clamped around an arm, they don’t let go until their handler commands them to.
But public relations aside, the dogs’ primary duty remains assisting criminal investigations by sniffing out evidence and tackling bad guys.
The handler and his canine colleague’s relationship is long-term and very close.
“One handler stays with one dog until the dog retires. Handlers have to clean and exercise their dogs daily, and keep their kennels clean.”
The dogs are on call 24/7 and typically serve for around 10 years before living out the rest of their lives in police kennels. The law forbids the dogs from being sold or given up for adoption.
“We ensure the welfare of the dogs is taken care of,” said Saravanan.
Every handler is proud when his dog plays a vital role in an investigation, but for Saravanan and his team, the bond between man and dog is a greater joy.
Handler Maxwell Fenny Tan is now working with his fourth canine partner, Charles, who only completed his training two months ago.
Tan, from Sarawak, said going home on leave can be heavy on his heart as he does not take his K9 dog with him.
“When I go back to my hometown it can be for nearly 20 days at a time,” said Tan.
“Then, when I’m at the airport waiting to fly back to KL, I feel so excited knowing I’ll soon be seeing my dog.”
As far as heroes go, names like Jambu, Bunga and Manggis may not appear on comic book covers or movie posters, but these names and many others are immortalised on the memorial wall of the police K9 unit, commemorating their loyalty, perseverance and sacrifice.
Those of us who have trouble getting our pampered pups to sit and stay on command can only marvel at the working partnerships of K9.
For when it comes to fighting crime, a well-trained partner pooch is definitely man’s best friend.