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This article was published 5/12/2019 (297 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A respected career that included hundreds of tracking arrests and numerous high-risk operations came to an end Wednesday for a beloved member of the Winnipeg Police Service.
Banner, a Belgian Malinois police dog, was six years old.
The dog appeared unwell Tuesday, prompting handler Const. Justin Casavant to take him to Bridgwater Veterinary Hospital. Tests revealed an aggressive cancer was responsible for Banner's rapid deterioration. The decision was made to put him down.
"It was a great ride that ended way too soon; we wore our hearts on our sleeves and left it all out on the streets," Casavant said in a statement.
Banner was part of the police service’s in-house breeding program and was born May 9, 2013 with littermates Jade and Xandra, currently serving with the WPS; Shelby, of the Grand Forks Police Department; Brandon Police Service dog Karma; and Hunter, who works with Manitoba Conservation.
Banner was trained in tracking and tactical support and contributed to more than 200 arrests, in addition to working with Casavant on 100-plus tactical support team operations.
Casavant and Banner were involved in the tracking arrest of Brian Thomas, the man convicted in the 2017 murder of Winnipeg Transit driver Irvine Fraser.
And in his last 24 hours, the dog led officers from a stolen vehicle to a residence where two people were arrested.
"PSD Banner and his handler Justin Casavant were very respected within the service," public information officer Const. Jay Murray said. "They’re extremely hard workers, and they did an incredible job on the street, and I think that really resonated with a lot of our co-workers."
As word of Banner’s death spread, officers gathered at the veterinary hospital Wednesday to show their support and appreciation for the pair, Murray said. An impromptu procession of a dozen police cruisers, with emergency lights on, followed Casavant’s vehicle as it left the hospital.
"They wanted to provide him with an appropriate sendoff," Murray said. "It speaks to the impact that Banner and Justin had on the street."
Cassie Maeren was working in the neighbourhood when Casavant and Banner first pulled into the animal hospital parking lot, and watched as officers assembled there and the procession through Bridgwater Centre that followed.
She shared what she saw — police consoling one another, tears, hugs and the procession of squad cars — on Facebook, and the condolences began to roll in as the post was shared more than 1,000 times.
"It was really beautiful. It was a super-emotional moment," Maeren said. "There were only a few of us who were lucky enough to see what was going on and it was an intense emotional moment.
"I think there’s so much sadness and negativity and stuff going on in our city right now, I thought it would be nice to share something... that I thought was really beautiful.
"It was a very human moment. It was very emotional and raw, and I thought people needed to see that."
The bond developed between police service dogs and their handlers is no different than those fostered between partners who spend countless hours in cruiser cars together, Murray said.
"This handler is spending the vast majority of their day with this dog, whether it’s at work or at home, and you can only imagine how strong that bond would become," he said. "It’s going to take some time for Justin to deal with the loss of his partner, and I can tell you he’d appreciate all the support that’s being given."
Murray said it is not common for police service dogs to succumb to illness and many enjoy years of retirement.
"Banner was a huge asset to the Winnipeg Police Service and will be missed," he said.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.
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