The loyalty of a dog makes him man’s best friend, but what happens when your dog also happens to be part of your job?
This is the reality for Cpl. Mike Zinck and his dog Ecko of the RCMP in Airdrie.
“Growing up I had a lot of respect for the police, and I wanted to be (an officer) at a very young age,” says Zinck.
“I never once considered applying to the Department where I grew up because I was focused on joining the RCMP as soon as I turned 19 years of age.”
Paying his dues on general duty, Zinck served his community both in Crime Prevention and Victims Services before becoming an Emergency Response team member.
“At about eight years of service, I was accepted into the Police Dog Service (PDS) and became a police dog handler.”
This feat is extraordinary given that out of about 500 applicants only eight handlers are trained each year.
“As a regular member of the RCMP, a PDS applicant must be a high performer and have the support of his or her supervisors,” says Zinck.
“Then, the applicant is required to volunteer his or her time to assist in training with a PDS handler for about a year.”
“From there, the applicant becomes an ‘imprinter,’ and begins raising ‘puppies’ or potential police service dogs for the RCMP’s PDS training centre.”
Applicants are expected to raise a minimum of two puppies for the RCMP, explains Zinck, but most raise three to five puppies before acceptance to the Basic Dog Handler course.
They must also be able to run the dog handler’s Physical Abilities Requirement Evaluation (PARE) test.
“What makes getting into the RCMP Police Dog Service so challenging is the fact that each applicant is expected to volunteer their time for several years while maintaining their duties within the RCMP,” says Zinck.
Once his acceptance was secure Zinck was assigned to his first dog.
As he has been with the RCMP for 25 years and PDS for 16 years, Zinck is currently partnered up with his third dog, Ecko.
The lifestyle is rewarding for Zinck, with helping people, fighting crime, and making the community safe as top priorities.
“We love catching ‘bad guys,’ and dislike when they get away from us.
“The coolest part about my job is watching my dog work,” says Zinck.
“When he locates a missing person or criminal suspect, or piece of crucial evidence, or drugs, it is amazing and very rewarding.
“I often reflect on how much training went into developing our ability, combined with the sheer drive and determination of Ecko, and feel very fortunate to have such a great partner.”
Even with the training, several misconceptions always following Zinck and Ecko.
“People often think that the police dog needs to sniff an article of clothing left behind by the suspect or missing person to track or search for them.”
“This is not the case,” says Zinck.
The other misconception that Zinck hears a lot is that the dogs are trained only to bite.
“Yes, they are trained to bite, but our police dogs are very even tempered.”
Zinck relates the dogs’ training to that of a light switch.
“When it is time to go to work then our dogs are capable of getting the job done, but when the light switch is off, then our dogs are very social, and are great around people, including kids.”
Of course, when Zinck tells the general public what he does for a living, he gets the ‘you-have-the-coolest-job-ever’ response.
However, the reaction at the Department is a different story.
“Most officers say either ‘I want to be a dog handler,’ or ‘there is no way I could do that job.’”
“I have been blessed with three great working dogs over my career, and consider my job more as a lifestyle than work.”