New Zealand's longest-serving police dog handler certainly
has a tale or two.
Peter Hanlin (52) reflected this week on his 30-year police
career, of which 28 years - or 196 dog years - was spent as a
During his career he worked 10 dogs, including Renko, ''a
real crook catcher'', two bitches Dante and Brook, and Vice,
who, sadly, cut an artery in training.
Two years after he joined the police, on June 25, 1984, he
became one of the youngest dog trainees in the country and
only the second handler who was single.
''At the time, dog handlers were normally very experienced
members of the police, married with children and owning their
An early highlight with his first dog, Sergeant, was after
the burglary of a Taieri Rd pharmacy at 3.30am.
An offender had been disturbed trying to drill a hole in the
wooden floor of the premises and was last seen running across
Sergeant quickly picked up a track, which he followed through
several properties, and a holly hedge that left Mr Hanlin's
The dog continued up a hill when Mr Hanlin heard a door slam
and noticed the lights of a house being switched off. Other
officers were called to the address, and after police knocked
on the door, a nervous looking woman dressed in pyjamas
opened the door and reluctantly let them search the house.
''... we found two males in bed together. One looked like he
had not long woken up - the other looked like he had been for
The two men claimed they had been in bed together all night,
but Mr Hanlin noted one had scratches across his face, just
like the ones he had received himself.
The man, asked to get out of bed, was found to be wearing his
underwear and socks. Inside the washing machine, which had
just been turned on, the officers found floating woodchips
from the pharmacy floor.
The man was found guilty in court and convicted.
When growing up, Mr Hanlin always had dogs and he considered
himself a dog person. And part of the attraction of being a
police dog handler was working ''with a partner you know and
can depend on''.
Many of his callouts were to jobs that had just happened, and
tracking offenders through streets and properties during the
night was ''very exciting''.
''Working predominantly at night brought the best out of you
and your dog; the thrill of the chase and the hunt ... and,
at times, the catch.''
The most frustrating moments were the narrow misses,
including one instance when his dog tracked an offender from
a pharmacy in Highcliff Rd, following a burglary, to near the
Vauxhall Yacht Club, only to lose the track.
However, Mr Hanlin had earlier noticed the burglar's vehicle
and the offender was later arrested. He admitted hiding up a
tree, watching Mr Hanlin and his dog, just where the trail
Mr Hanlin also spent 15 years as a dog handler with the armed
offenders squad and ''attended many jobs that were exciting
and frightening at the same time''.
One of this involved the arrest of Gareth Smither, who killed
his former girlfriend Karen Jacobs, in her Dunedin home in
Mr Hanlin and his dog were sent to Central Otago where
Smither was believed to be hiding.
It was a cold night at Butchers Dam, near Alexandra, with a
12deg hoar frost, and the dog nabbed the offender as he came
down some stairs following the offer of hot food.
After some incidents, he would go home at night and ''retrace
your track in your head and think of places you may have
missed ... I found a firearm used in a post office robbery
that way'', Mr Hanlin said.
In one unusual incident, one man tried to swim underwater
down the Kaikorai Stream at night to evade the police dog,
only for the dog to swim after him and pick up his scent on
top of the water.
When police dogs helped defuse student disturbances in the
early 1990s, ''we became targets of the mob''.
One dog handler ended up with a dart in his neck, and another
was hit in the head by a brick.
Other downsides included outside work during winter,
particularly ''tracking at night in the wet, while the other
staff are on cordons and in their cars, keeping warm with the
All dogs had different traits and his two best performing
ones were both used in an armed offenders squad role.
''The best dogs I have had were two with different strengths.
''One was totally committed when performing criminal work -
biting; the other loved tracking people.''
The last dog he worked with before his retirement was Zero,
who since been reallocated, and one of his highlights
involved the successful resolution of an early morning
burglary of a legal-high shop in Princes St.
Shown the last place where the offender had been spotted,
Zero started tracking and found the offender's discarded
clothing in Hope St, before following the trail along some
High St properties.
After an hour, the offender was located hiding on the top
floor balcony of a nearby motel.
''He was smoking as much herbal high as he could.''
Mr Hanlin said the role had changed enormously over the
years. Offenders were now more mobile, often using cellphones
to ring colleagues to be picked up.
He also noted more people were out in the early hours of the
morning, and that added more pedestrian traffic to the mix.
Despite leaving the police, he has not left his love of dogs
behind and is now working as a senior animal service control
officer with the Dunedin City Council.