A "rock star" cadaver dog named Sully was the focus of Monday afternoon's testimony at the Douglas Garland triple murder trial, highlighting a speciality area of investigation unique to the Calgary Police Service in Western Canada.
Three officers from CPS' K-9 unit testified about their roles in the investigation involving the two different days Sully was dispatched to the Garland farm.
Garland is charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of five-year-old Nathan O'Brien and his grandparents, Alvin and Kathy Liknes. All three were last seen the night of June 29, 2014, when Nathan was sleeping over at his grandparents' home.
Their bodies have not been found, but the prosecution told jurors DNA from all three were found on the farm where Garland lived with his elderly parents.
'He thinks it's fun'
With a sense of smell 40 times that of a human, Sully's former handler Sgt. Jens Lind says the dog doesn't know he's doing police work — for him, everything is a game.
"He's a bit of a rock star," said Lind of Sully's reputation among cadaver dogs. "He thinks it's fun to find human remains."
Sully was two years old when he was certified as a cadaver dog. His final exam was to seek out six "hides" of human blood and pork that were both buried and hidden in tree branches.
The German shepherd breed is most commonly used for police dogs, but in the case of cadaver dogs, Labrador retrievers are preferred because they have twice the stamina, said Lind.
Lind worked with Sully until July 19, 2014 when Const. Aron Johnston took over.
Sully has been dispatched by police 18 times, including on eight homicide cases, and has a 100 per cent "deployment success rate."
One of two cadaver dogs
There are 22 dogs in the Calgary Police Service's canine unit in roles from general patrol to specialty detection work.
Sully is now one of two cadaver dogs working for the CPS, but was the only one when he was doing work on the Garland farm in 2014.
The cadaver detection program began in Calgary in 2008 and CPS is the only police service in western Canada with cadaver dogs.
Of course, the dogs have no idea they're doing police work.
"With detection dogs it's a game of hide and seek, they don't know what they're looking for," says Const. Darcy Williams who also worked with Sully on the Garland farm.
Sully works the Garland farm
The relationship between officer and dog is a close one built on reading the sometimes subtle cues handlers watch for, like a head snap or change in breathing.
Sully worked on the Garland farm twice on July 5 and 18, 2014.
Several times, the officers testified that Sully "indicated" he was onto the scent of human remains, marking spots where further investigation would take place by human officers. At one point the dog was described as "frantic."
"He was so excited," said Lind.
Sully gave signals he was onto something in areas near the wood chipper and burn barrel, a sprinkler and a pile of debris.
As the trial unfolds, it's unknown if the dog's scent-based investigation led to results. If there is evidence based on Sully's "finds" that will come out through other witnesses.
But Sully is unlikely to work again.
The 10-year-old yellow Lab is now considered on "active retirement," though his senior status didn't keep him from making the 2017 CPS K-9 unit calendar. Sully is Mr. January.
He is so good at his job Johnston says Sully could still work, but it's time to train a replacement.
For now, he's on-call for emergencies only.
Once Riggs, his replacement, is fully trained, the CPS' first-ever cadaver dog will enjoy a full retirement.
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