REGINA – Police dogs are known for their strong noses, and fast legs.
But Merlot, the K9 intervention dog, does the opposite. Most of the time she sits very still, very quiet and uses her puppy presence to simply listen.
Merlot is the first ever K9 intervention dog to be a part of the Regina Police Service.
She’s got a serious doggy day job, assisting all ages in uncomfortable situations.
Merlot and handler Sgt. Tia Froh start the day with commands, a daily practice to keep her in tip-paw-shape.
The pair often find themselves in the courtroom. Merlot assists on the stand, simply by laying down next to the victims as they share their story.
Most of the time, however, is spent at the Regina Children’s Justice Centre.
Those who have been abused, sexually, physically or through neglect come to share their stories.
Merlot helps victims of all ages, but for children specifically it can be a very scary time.
Dog owners know the joy of coming home to a wagging tale, this is now a feeling that victims can share.
For youth in the justice centre, interviews with officers can be very intimidating,
“As an interviewer, you can’t show emotion, you can’t take sides,” Sgt. Froh said.
But that’s where Merlot comes in. Flashing puppy dog eyes that set children at ease without saying a word.
“If you’re talking to the dog and not having to look at the interviewer, it’s just a comforting aid for the child.”
Studies have proven that dogs help to decrease blood pressure and anxiety.
Erica Schenk is a Victim Services Responder and has only praise for Merlot’s work.
“When [victims] know Merlot is there for a support, they’re more willing to move forward with an investigation or more willing to go up on the stand and testify,” explained Schenk.
Merlot was bred and trained though Pacific Assistance Dogs (PADs), a non-for-profit that works to raise assistant dogs. Merlot was raised by Tara Dong in Burnaby, BC who knew early on the pup was destined for greater things.
“Merlot, from the time she was a baby, wanted to be good. She wanted to do the right thing,” explained Dong.
Unlike most puppies, hyper and easily distracted, Merlot showed early signs of sympathy. It was then an easy decision to begin intervention training.
“She was very in tune with the people around her, so if somebody was upset that is who she wanted to be with.”
Merlot, the three-year-old black Labrador Retriever, has proven her worth; a four-legged friend beneficial to both victims and to the system as a whole.