A Manitoba First Nations Police Service officer is making history as the first Indigenous K-9 handler in the force’s history.
Const. Travis Assiniboine, from Dakota Tipi First Nation, has been an MFNPS officer for three years, but the opportunity to become a dog handler came after the service expanded to Opaskwayak Cree Nation in April.
Assiniboine previously worked in Waywayseecappo First Nation, Long Plain First Nation and Sandy Bay First Nation, but the chance to work with police dogs came after another handler took him under his wing in Opaskwayak.
He didn’t learn he was the first Indigenous dog handler in the service’s history until after the job became official, he said.
"It was a shock to me when the chief of police mentioned that to me after I was hired," Assiniboine said.
"It’s an honour and a privilege, and I hope that I can pave the way and show other Indigenous constables in our service or even youth that it’s a possibility as long as they put the work in."
Assiniboine has been paired up with Zion, a one-year-old Belgian Malinois. Zion is the son of Brandon Police Service dog Storm and related to other police dogs in the province. The Office of the Fire Commissioner owns Zion and his mother.
Currently, Assiniboine is training with Zion at the Office of the Fire Commissioner facility in Brandon on a 16-week course.
The day starts with a tracking exercise, Assiniboine said, and typically moves to building searches or narcotic detection in the afternoon. Zion is also learning suspect apprehension and article searches.
Assiniboine said the training is also for him as Zion is already mostly trained for tracking.
"I’ve been learning just the signs and stuff that my dog indicates on and shows me when we’re out doing the work. When we’re out tracking and we lose the track, my dog gives me a sign and it’s up to me to get my dog back onto that track," he said.
While it was a bit of a learning curve as Assiniboine didn’t meet Zion until training started, he said he is now picking up on the signals Zion is giving.
"When I first got Zion, he was already a year old. I didn’t meet him before that … it was basically him and I starting to get that bond so him and I could work together and gel properly and work as a team," he said.
"Zion is a really social dog. He loves meeting people, he loves basically just going out and throwing the ball."
The pair will be based in Opaskwayak Cree Nation, but will be deployed to other communities when needed.
Assiniboine and Zion are in week seven of the 16-week training program. Currently, they are completing the introduction to drug searches program — something new for both of them. The pair are scheduled to complete training in August.
"Every morning, as soon as it’s time to leave for work, he comes out of his kennel, jumps out and he gives me a pretty big hug to start the day."
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