Dogs display their agility, intelligence and aggressiveness at a demonstration on the compound of Rab Dog Squad office at Mirpur recently.Photo: Amran Hossain
It was 6 in the morning. Max was walking in the open field in front of his office at Mirpur Section 14. He was doing light exercise with his colleagues. While jumping over the hurdles he gave a suspicious look at one person or two who were not familiar to him or were not his colleagues.
“Who are you and what are you doing here? I have never seen you here before! Have you taken my clearance before entering the premises?” he thought. He did not bark but fixed that person with his looks.
Inside his head he was busy managing the tight schedule that he was going to maintain that day. After an hour he will have to go to a slum to look for arms, then to join a 'block raid' and then to a state programme to search for explosives. It depends on him whether the state programme will be held or cancelled. So Max takes his duties very seriously.
Max is a trained arms and explosives dog of the Rab Dog Squad.
If he finds any explosives he scratches the ground with his paws, wags his tail and rubs his nose. Later the bomb disposal unit takes out the explosives.
“He is one of our smartest dogs in searching arms and explosives,” said Captain Mizanur Rahman, in-charge, Rab Dog Squad.
Danger, Night, Rex, Wolf, Rocky, Booty and Dusty are Max's colleagues.
The main duty of them is sweeping an area before an important state programme where VIPs will be present. The site can be the Prime Minister's Office, Rab Headquarters or the Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban, venues for important national or international events.
“It takes 20 minutes to two hours to sweep a field depending on the area. The area is segmented and each dog is tasked with searching in one segment. The place is declared safe after we give the clearance,” he said.
“This is a very sensitive job. Many important things depend on our clearance so we don't make haste,” he added.
There are four teams of dog squad -- arms and explosive search, narcotic search, biting dog and training dog -- chosen from Labradors and German Shepherds. German Shepherds are ferocious, aggressive and agile. They are mostly used for biting and manning an area. Labradors are comparatively docile and used in arms, explosives and narcotic search.
Tracker dogs apprehend criminals during raids. The dogs are used to search and rescue the injured or find the dead from under collapsed buildings.
“Our dogs were used in searching the dead and the injured in the garment factory collapse in Savar. In the recent Yaba drives the dogs played a key part in finding the drugs,” said Rahman.
“During the disaster of Sidr we could not use them for searching because we need more manpower and more dogs to carry out a massive work like this.”
In 1998, twenty-five dogs were brought from England in the first batch to form the squad under Bangladesh Police. Among them 12 were German Shepherds and 13 Labradors. On average one dog cost Tk 25,000.
In 2006, 10 German Shepherds were imported from India. In August 2004 when the squad was handed over to Rab it had 40 dogs.
For puppies a basic training is given when they turn six to nine months. It is a two-month training where the puppies' intelligence, agility, aggressiveness and smelling capacity are assessed.
The dogs are made familiar with basic commands, the smell of gunpowder, explosives, narcotics and related elements during training. They are given further training according to their capabilities and if they pass the basic training.
The dogs remain most active up to the age of eight or nine years.
Asked whether local dogs can be used in place of them, Rahman said, “The local breeds cannot be compared with the high standard of the pure breeds. Sarail dog, found in Sarail of Brahmanbaria, are the best among the local breed that are used in guarding residential houses. But they are far from what we need for searching arms, explosives and narcotics.”
The efficiency of the dogs also depends on the weather.
“If the sun is hot or the wind is strong, then it affects the working capability of a dog. It becomes tired quickly and needs more rest,” said a handler.
Md Afazuddin, working as the dogs' vet since 2004, said that a combined vaccine is given to the dogs every year to prevent six viral infectious diseases like rabies, canine distemper, canine hepatitis, Purbu virus, Leptospiosis 1 and 2. The dogs are groomed regularly to prevent them from seasonal skin diseases like external parasites and tic and lice.
The dogs also have a hospital of their own, which has a well-equipped operating theatre, where minor injuries are treated, diseases diagnosed and minor surgeries done. For major operations they are taken to the Central Veterinary Hospital on Kazi Alauddin Road.
When they grow old some of them die naturally. Some of them are drugged with chemical to ensure their peaceful death. This is called euthanasia. They are buried with due honour at a certain place.
The squad now has 51 dogs -- 41 Labradors and 10 German Shepherds. These include 29 arms and explosives dogs, 4 narcotics dogs, 5 biting dogs and 5 trackers. Seventy-five persons are engaged in taking care of them.
After the warm-up session in the morning breakfast is served to the dogs at 8:00am. Then the dogs on duty are sent to their respected sites. Other dogs go back to warm-up sessions from 8:30am to 11:30am so that they remain fit and agile. They are groomed from 11:30am to 12:00pm.
The dogs have lunch at 3:30 in the afternoon before going back to their cages. The meal contains a 50-gram slice of bread, egg boil, cod liver oil, boiled meat and vegetables.
Around Tk 130 to 150 is spent on each dog daily. Each dog has one handler who has at least 2 months' basic training on how to handle dogs. Trainers from army have 6 months' training on it.