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This article was published 13/3/2019 (218 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It’s all in the nose.
Rocky, the newest member of True North’s paw patrol, was put through the next level of his training on Wednesday to sniff out explosives.
A can emitting an explosive-type odor was hidden five times in different locations. Despite the distraction of the city’s media phalanx that was invited to see him in action, Rocky found five out of five and was rewarded with treats.
In a couple of months when training is done, the 15-month-old Labrador mix will join the other three members of the Bell MTS Place canine crew.
The dogs search dressing rooms and every nook and cranny of the entertainment centre downtown ahead of Winnipeg Jets games and other functions as part of the True North’s standard security measures.
For instance, Grace, Lenny and Rip – fans named the dogs in a contest — sniffed out MTS Place from stem to stern for four hours before the March 4 appearance by former United States president Barack Obama.
In 2017, the National Hockey League mandated canine units as an added security measure for all NHL rinks.
'Within the first three or four minutes I knew he had what it takes. I’ve probably tested 150-200 dogs. He’s in the top three I’ve ever tested. In over 30 years' – Trainer Dave Bessason
Even before then, though, True North had hired handler and trainer Dave Bessason, a former Winnipeg Police Services canine officer. He put the first paw patrol together with two adult Belgian Malinois, Dante and Daisy.
Rocky’s human handlers believe he's special because he was a rescue they say was probably days away from being put down because of behavioral issues – he was aggressive towards other dogs.
"This is a dog that needs a purpose," trainer Bessason told media before he brought in Rocky to meet them. The dog charged through door like a shot, a panting, tag-wagging force of nature.
"We were looking for a couple dogs in the program and we contacted numerous rescues in the province and we were going out testing dogs. And we came across Rocky, who was fostered through Manitoba Mutts.
"Within the first three or four minutes I knew he had what it takes. I’ve probably tested 150-200 dogs. He’s in the top three I’ve ever tested. In over 30 years," Bessason said.
Rocky was judged perfect for the paw patrol because of his high energy, his tenacity and his keen desire to please. He's getting retrained to be as good with other dogs as he is with people.
Manitoba Mutt’s volunteer Colleen Holloway said Rocky had been through three foster families and was in a kennel when she got Bessason’s call.
There was no official countdown on the dog, Holloway said, but it’s safe to say the rescue was getting worried about whether they could find the right home. Rescue groups are run by dedicated volunteers who work to avoid putting down animals.
Rocky was one of two male pups brought in last May from around the Peguis First Nation. The two were litter mates and the other pup, also a male, was a sweet quiet dog. He was adopted within two months but it took until True North called to find Rocky a home.
Bessason’s wife named the dog after the Hollywood classic with Sylvester Stallone, who portrayed an underdog boxer who made good.
"The dog’s working out really, really well," Bessason said. "His work ethic is phenomenal. He’s a pain in the butt to be honest, but that’s what we’re looking for. Those dogs that want to investigate. The dogs who want to please but please on their own terms."
Alexandra is a veteran news reporter who has covered stories for the Winnipeg Free Press since 1987. She held the medical beat for nearly 17 years, and today specializes in coverage of Indigenous-related issues. She is among the most versatile journalists on the paper’s staff.
Updated on Thursday, March 14, 2019 at 10:20 AM CDT: fixes typo