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Caber the Caring K9

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On the sunny sands of Centennial Beach, Caber the Delta Police Trauma K9 looks a lot like any dog out for a walk. But as I approach him there’s definitely something different about him. A calmness, a serenity to his friendly gaze.

“He doesn’t have an ounce of aggression or mean in him. It’s just not his nature,” explains Kim Gramlich, his handler and Victim Services Coordinator for Delta Police. “He was tested to have a very stable, calm temperament and be, basically, for all intents and purposes a big love bug.”

Caber was Canada’s first “intervention K9” when he joined the force in 2010, now one of 17 operating throughout the country. The Yellow Labrador Retriever was two and a half years old following his training from the Pacific Assistance Dogs Society (PADS) and has since put in six years of service.

Yellow Labs are trained with positive reinforcement techniques and being a highly “food-motivated” breed they can be easily taught a variety of “jobs” making them ideal assistance dogs.

But for Caber to get his job he needed to be more than a typical assistance dog. In testing situations where police exposed him to loud noises and sirens he showed no anxiety or fear. And rather than respond suspiciously to people exhibiting stress and anger, Caber exudes a calming veneer.

“He just wants to be with people and be petted and just provide comfort and support at all times,” says Kim.

In early 2013, Caber was the first “Courthouse Dog” to be accepted by the courts in B.C. to help a witness give testimony. He also works outside the courtroom supporting witnesses during pre-trial interviews.

DSC_5688“I think our Criminal Justice System in Canada is starting to realize that victims of crime sometimes need some special assistance and the Criminal Code actually recognizes and acknowledges that,” explains Kim, who is quick to note that it’s unlikely the Courts will begin to allow any and all animals to accompany witnesses, only those who are accredited, like Caber.

In 2010, Caber was brought into high school following the murder of 15-year-old North Delta girl Laura Szendrei to help friends, students, teachers and parents cope with grief.

Kim says Caber’s effect on people is “profound” as the changes are not just emotional but physiological. She recalls one visit to Surrey Memorial Hospital when an elderly woman requested Caber lie on the bed with her.

“When he jumped on her bed her blood pressure and her heart rate immediately began to drop. So I actually saw that with my own eyes.”

So, what makes dogs so good at providing trauma support? Kim says people are very responsive to a dog’s unconditional display of affection and feel a tremendous sense of acceptance, making them open up in ways that wouldn’t be possible with a fellow human being.

“So they don’t care about your religion, the colour of your skin, how much money you make. None of those things matter to dogs.”

All of the judgments or shame or worry or guilt or embarrassment are not applicable in the presence of Caber. And when people who are highly agitated and emotional are introduced to Caber, he is able to soften and diffuse those emotions far quicker than a human could.

“So effectively he’s a lot better at the job than I am most of the time,” says Kim, laughing.

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Sometimes Caber will even come into contact with people who are afraid or allergic of dogs, but his presence is so friendly that people come away with smiles on their faces talking about how much better they feel.

“In my line of work that’s kind of the greatest compliment somebody could give us, that we did something that was exactly what they needed in their time of need.”

Kim began working in Victim Services with the Langley RCMP in 1995 and joined the Delta Police five years later. But it was a trip south of the border in 2010 to investigate stories about dogs doing trauma work in the United States that compelled her to get the ball rolling in Canada.

“I was kind of like a dog with a bone,” says Kim, laughing at the wordplay. “I came back and I pitched the idea to the Delta Police Board and that’s where it all grew.”

Co-workers often bond with one another but few bonds are so strong as this one. Kim spends 24 hours a day with Caber as she ferries him around the Lower Mainland helping people.

At eight and a half years old, Caber is still in tremendous physical condition, even though his job doesn’t require it like other police dogs. Working dogs like Caber will generally keep going until they decide on their own to retire, says Kim. Seriously.

“When he no longer has the drive and the energy to work then we’ll retire him. Right now he loves what he does. He loves coming to the department, he loves going everywhere I go as his handler.”

Caber is a popular member of the Delta Police and you can follow along with his exploits on Instagram by searching for “k9caber”. For more information and background on Caber you can also visit Deltapolice.ca and their Victim Services section.

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