Reflections of a Dog Handler's Wife ~ by Author Laura Frost

Dogs play an important role in our world, whether through
delivering a sloppy kiss or by proudly wearing a service jacket. I am fortunate to have had an amazing canine in my life that played both roles.

Gus was a police narcotics dog, trained to sniff out a wide range of drugs. His skills were used to search prisons and airports, but most often, Gus sniffed suspicious vehicles traveling down the nation’s highways.

As a chocolate lab of just over a year, Gus had destroyed his owner’s yard by ripping apart the fence and digging a series of holes, as though an elusive bone must be hidden somewhere beneath the once-manicured grass. Gus’s owner realized that Gus was not an average dog built for life as a family pet, but rather one that needed to have his energy harnessed for a higher purpose. Thus, Gus entered the Police Dog Services program at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police dog training facility where he was paired up with my husband, Ryan, in the fall of 2009.

Gus and Ryan were a perfect randomized match for one another, flipping from peas in a pod to fighting for rank as the alpha of the team. Both stubborn with a deep drive to perform, Gus and Ryan excelled in their training while always trying to one-up each other.

After graduation from training, Gus came to live with our family in the beautiful Rocky Mountains. With Gus’s unyielding energy levels, we could not trust his hungry mouth and ever-wagging tail inside our home, so he lived in a large kennel in our yard. Cement pad, chain-link fencing, plywood roofing – the dog who loved to plan a jailbreak needed a special home. He had a lovely double-insulated doghouse in his kennel, plenty of food and water, multiple walks (or a mountain hike) a day, and so many sticks to chew and destroy.

Yet, he wanted more.

The barking. In those first days, non-stop barking – not acceptable in the close quarters of a small mountain town. Ryan bought a bark collar that sprayed citrus oil every time Gus barked. It settled him for about an hour.

Then Gus tested.

Just how loud could Gus bark but not release the annoying spray into his face? He figured it out and we became used to the low rumble of Gus’s perfect tone, just below squirt threshold.

Gus spent his workdays traveling the highways in a police SUV, ready to brace himself when Ryan yelled, “Hang on, buddy!” as he learned to lean into a sharp turn, sirens blaring overhead. Gus’s days off were spent hiking to tops of mountains or playing catch in our yard. No matter what Gus was doing, his energy levels ruled him.

Despite being a police dog, Gus was also part of our family, and so he went on family vacations with us, training with Ryan between hotdog roasts and family walks. On one sunny winter day at our cabin, we had shoveled a spot on the lake for skating. Gus had freedom to run on the frozen water, all the while being psychologically corralled by Ryan. Unfortunately, no one thought about the luscious winter boots that had been left on the bench by the ice. Gus snagged our son’s boot and turned it into a wonderful hour-long game of “watch Ryan chase and swear at me.” That was a very fun day for Gus.

Summer at the cabin was full of other adventures. One day, after
what was surely an exhausting swim in the lake for Gus, Ryan secured him to a tree and gave him a bone to chew. Gus rolled his eyes and turned his attention to the leash itself, chomping away until he was running free, tattered leash trailing behind. Shaking his head, Ryan hauled out a metal chain. Surely that would do the trick. Now chained to the tree with a fresh bone to love, Gus eyed the source of the problem: the tree itself. Just as Gus closed his canines around the scrumptious trunk, Ryan relocated him to the deck, with no tree close enough for Gus to get his mouth on. So, Gus chewed the deck.

When it was time for our family to take the boat out, Gus was left in his kennel to chill. (Haha… “chill”) We had a glorious day on the water and, as we hopped from the boat onto the dock, Gus appeared. He galloped towards us, pink tongue hanging out and lolling in the breeze. “How did you get out?” Ryan asked. We inspected the kennel and realized that Gus had disappeared into his velociraptor persona again – testing the kennel for weak spots. He used his four-thousand dollar tooth (a previous repair due to his propensity to chew non-chewable objects) to pry up the bottom of the chain-link fencing of his kennel, just enough for him to wiggle under and break free. And fixing the escape hole? Ha. It took a number of tools and all of Ryan’s strength to bend that fence back into a semblance of its former state.

Although Gus was destructive at times, he was able to harness his energy and put it to work when the time came. Gus’s primary goal in life was to play with his Kong – something he only got to do that when he worked hard. When Ryan directed Gus to search a vehicle, Gus took all his crazy energy and put it into his nose, searching until he narrowed in on the scent and found a stash of drugs. The RCMP were able to take another traveling criminal off our highways and Gus got to play with his Kong.

By the end of his policing career, Gus had helped take over sixteen million dollars worth of illegal drugs and other contraband off our highways. Gus had also eaten one patrol jacket, a first aid kit, the stuffing from too many “indestructible” dog beds, the headrest of a police SUV (which created a diarrhea bomb that was comical to all but Ryan), the weather stripping from three police trucks, and too many sticks, shrubs, and trees to count.

Gus eventually retired from police life and, for six weeks, became our own. My walking friends teased me that I was growing “pipes” because of the craziness that I had to control at the end of my leash for the five kilometers that we walked each morning. It was that same energy that took four grown humans to hold Gus down at the vet clinic to administer his annual shots. To paraphrase the vet: “Labs have an energy level of 9. Chocolate labs are a 10. Gus is a 15.”

Although Gus was an important part of our family, we quickly realized that he was never meant to be a pet in the classic way and was getting bored sitting around while the rest of us rushed off to jobs or school. With heavy hearts, we said goodbye to Gus and sent him to his new life as a sniffer dog at work camps.

After a couple of years cleaning up the camps, Gus’s senior years began to take hold and he was finally able to live inside a house without completely destroying it. With the assistance of Ned’s Wish, a foundation that supports police dogs in their retirement, Gus found companionship with his new family, including their autistic boy who bonded with Gus. Yet, as much as he would spend his time cuddling up to his new favorite person, Gus’s energy still crept out and the family would have to buy a new indoor kennel every few months after Gus destroyed the last.

Gus passed away on October 28, 2019. For a dog who was impossible to manage at times, who ate everything in sight, taunted my husband with his stubbornness, and outsmarted devices designed to control him, Gus was a champion at keeping our nation safe, and then at being a companion for a child who needed a dog just like him.

From being sling-rescued off a mountain by helicopter, to standing proudly beside a hundred pounds of confiscated marijuana, Gus packed a hundred years of stories into his eleven years of life. Thank you, Gus, for all you have done for our family, other families, and our country.

May the walks be long and the sticks be plentiful in doggy heaven, old buddy.

Laura Frost is a writer of upmarket fiction and is pursuing publication of her novels. A pie aficionado, Laura has crafted 103 distinct pies and cannot imagine a life without flaky crusts and interesting fillings. She has restless feet and her passion for adventure has led her to many different corners of the world, from the chill of the Arctic Ocean to the peace of a Nicaraguan mountaintop. To connect with Laura, please click the links below.

 

7 comments:

  1. It's delightful having you as our guest today, Laura. Thank you for sharing this incredible story. Gus sounded like quite the fella. I'm so glad he had a home with you for even a little while.

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    1. I'm pleased to be your guest. Thank you for the opportunity to share Gus's story with the world.

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  2. Great boost. I loved reading about Gus. What a hero!

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    1. Thank you! Gus certainly was one of a kind and he is dearly missed, eccentricities and all.

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  3. Thanks for sharing the story of Gus. What an amazing guy!

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  4. You are welcome. Gus definitely was one of a kind, and I'm pleased that his stories still carry on today.

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    ReplyDelete

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