The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Danny the RCMP dog will return to work following partner's death, Mounties say

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MONCTON, N.B. - It was the vision of Danny the RCMP dog standing on his hind legs and sniffing the Stetson belonging to his slain partner that kept Robert Harvey up at night.

The retired accountant and animal lover from Stratford, P.E.I., said he just couldn't shake the image.

"Dogs have feelings and he doesn't know what's going on at all," Harvey, 76, said in an interview Wednesday, a week after the shooting rampage in neighbouring New Brunswick that left three Mounties dead, including Danny's partner, Const. Dave Joseph Ross.

"We don't realize what that dog, too, is going through."

Two of Ross's colleagues, constables Fabrice Georges Gevaudan and Douglas James Larche, were also shot dead in north-end Moncton on June 4. Constables Eric Dubois and Darlene Goguen were injured.

The RCMP said it has received many inquiries from the media and members of the public about Danny's future since Tuesday's regimental funeral service in Moncton. Some attendees said the German shepherd could be heard whimpering next to Ross's flag-draped casket in the hockey arena.

The Canadian Press photo of Danny nosing the Stetson has been shared on Twitter dozens of times.

The Mounties said Wednesday that Danny will eventually be teamed up with another handler — something they said Ross's widow, Rachael, believes is important.

"Anytime Danny barked at home, it would be to get Dave to open the truck door so they could go to work," Rachael Ross said in a statement released by the RCMP.

"It wouldn't be fair to Danny to retire him as he loved his work as much as Dave did."

In a statement released earlier in the week, Ross's family spoke of his "great love" for dogs, particularly German shepherds, and how it led him into his field of expertise.

RCMP Const. Jullie Rogers-Marsh said Danny is currently living with another officer who is a former dog handler. A video posted Wednesday on YouTube by the RCMP shows Danny frolicking in water, tongue wagging.

"Thank you for posting!" one viewer commented. "I have wondered and prayed for Danny. Happy that he will continue a job he obviously loves."

Another viewer referred to Danny as "Canada's puppy."

Rogers-Marsh said she's not surprised by the public interest in Danny.

"It's another side of telling the story of our three fallen members," she said.

Once a new partner is chosen, Danny will spend time bonding with that officer before returning to his alma mater, the RCMP Police Dog Service Training Centre in Innisfail, Alta., for a rigorous three-week test involving drug-sniffing exercises and criminal apprehension challenges.

Danny, who will be three years old in August, started working with Ross in December 2012 and began formal training at the centre the following April. The pair were officially on the job together for less than a year before Ross's death.

Police dogs live and work with their handlers. Sgt. Eric Stebenne, a trainer at the RCMP centre in Innisfail, said an incredible connection exists between Mounties and man's best friend.

Ross and Danny were no exception.

"They were definitely very close, both Danny and Dave," said Stebenne. "Over time, they developed a very strong bond where the two learned to really trust and depend on each other and that was evident throughout his time here."

Stebenne said Danny will need to adjust to the loss of his partner.

"He and Dave spent so much time over the last year and a half that there's certainly a lot of questions or confusion in his mind," he said.

The RCMP say it's rare for police dogs to switch handlers during their careers, except in the case of a retirement. Four of its dog handlers, including Ross, have died in the line of duty since 1939. All of them were shot to death.

The training centre breeds 93 per cent of the dogs used by the RCMP, which has more than 100 police dog teams stationed across the country.

The dogs are trained to search for missing or lost people, track and apprehend suspects, sniff out illicit drugs and recover evidence at crime scenes.

For general duties, the RCMP only uses purebred German shepherds. Other breeds are used for so-called specialty detection teams.

Even though the centre breeds its own dogs, that doesn't mean all of them go into service. Trainers select only those with an even temperament and a keen hunting instinct. Most importantly, these dogs must show no reluctance when protecting their handlers or apprehending a suspect.

German shepherds are preferred because of their strength and heavy fur, which allow them to work in extremely cold conditions.

As well, German shepherds are just plain intimidating, the RCMP says on its website.

"Their presence seems to have an inhibitive psychological effect on potential wrongdoers," the site says. "German shepherds trained to apprehend will invariably make a successful arrest despite the fact they are trained only to hold, never to be savage."

— By Melanie Patten in Halifax with files from Michael MacDonald.

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