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New facility equipped to the canines

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Sgt. Dave Bessason holds two pups outside the Winnipeg Police Service's new Canine Unit facility in Transcona.

PHOTO BY DAN FALLOON Enlarge Image

Sgt. Dave Bessason holds two pups outside the Winnipeg Police Service's new Canine Unit facility in Transcona. Photo Store

Moving from the garage to a brand-new doghouse is a welcome upgrade for the Winnipeg Police Service’s K-9 unit.

The 4,500-square-foot building opened adjacent to the East District Police Station at 77 Durand Rd. in Transcona on June 21. Sgt. David Bessason, the chief trainer at the facility, lauded the construction of the new $1.5 million facility.

"We’ve gone through some big growth in the last couple years, and it’s nice to see this program going forward," said Bessason, a 24-year veteran of the force who has worked on the K-9 Unit for 13 of those. "We had an office in the East District station, but we had no kennel facilities, we had no whelping area. Guys were pretty well working out of their cruiser car."

Bessason noted one officer housed dogs in his home garage after the unit lost its home in the old Pandora Avenue West station in 2009. That was just the start of the difficulties associated with not having a facility.

"It was a huge sacrifice for (team members)," said Bessason, noting Mayor Sam Katz was a driving force behind getting the facility built. "You go on holidays, where is your dog staying?

"We get dog food 3,000 to 4,000 pounds at a time. Where do we store it? Where do we store drugs or explosives or bite suits?"

The facility houses adult dogs who are active with the force, as well as pups as young as seven weeks who are expected to be ready for service in just over a year.

"Our business plan is for every future position, we raise two pups," Bessason said. "The pups that best meet our program or the needs of our program, we keep. The rest, we sell."

The unit’s 12 officers and 13 active canines respond to over 7,000 calls a year, and Bessason stressed each and every one of them has a high degree of danger.

"We have the most dangerous position in the service," he said. "Everything we go to is in progress, whether it’s robberies, break-ins, assaults, thefts, high-speed chases — my guys are there."

With the pups and breeding stock, there are 25 dogs — a Labrador, a German shepherd, and 23 Belgian shepherd or Malinois dogs — in all who call the facility their new home. The oldest dog currently on the unit is 10 years old, though a 13-year-old recently retired.

In addition to office space and kennel space, there is also a large classroom that will host classes ranging from puppy-rearing to explosive and drug-detection.

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