"K-9," radios Const. Glen MacKenzie of the Saanich Police
Canine Section, "I'm en route to that red Mustang." A stolen car
racing down the Malahat Highway on Vancouver Island has evaded police in a
high-speed chase. By the time police locate the car in a Victoria suburb, the
driver has vanished.
Police service dog Ace is immediately on the case - 37 kilograms of
muscular black and tan German shepherd straining eagerly on his lead as he
picks up the thief's scent. MacKenzie, his handler, jogs behind at the end of
a ten-meter leash.
At a picnic area filled with people, Ace heads straight for the shore of
Langford Lake and wades into the water. "Where are you going,
buddy?" a puzzled MacKenzie asks his partner as he follows, thigh deep.
Some meters out, Ace suddenly turns left and swims parallel to the shoreline.
Down shore, standing on a small dock, another officer waves his arms.
"He didn't come this way!" he shouts. But Ace continues to swim
towards him. Reaching the dock, he dives underneath and seconds later
resurfaces - dragging the suspect with him.
MacKenzie and Ace are a potent crime-fighting team. During seven years
working with MacKenzie, the dog has been directly responsible for more than
300 arrests - everyone from shoplifters to drug dealers to murderers. But most
remarkable of all is the close relationship between MacKenzie and his canine
sidekick. "In 24 years of police work, I've never seen anything like
it," says Inspector Mike Chadwick, head of the Saanich Uniform Division.
"They're so close, I swear they could finish each other's
At seven o'clock on a rainy, windy February night, I arrive at Saanich
police headquarters just as MacKenzie and Ace are readying for a night shift.
Ace rolls on the floor, paws in the air, shamelessly soliciting belly rubs.
"Some tough police dog you are," 38-year-old MacKenzie scoffs.
Ace jumps into a large cage in the back of MacKenzie's Ford Explorer and we
set off to cruise the municipality, a bedroom community for the city of
Victoria. Three police radios mounted on the dashboard crackle with calls. One
announces the license-plate number of a stolen red Nissan, and McKenzie adds
it to his "hot sheet" list above the drivers door.
Just after 11 p.m. MacKenzie picks up the radio and mutters a few words.
Ace leaps to his feet and yips excitedly. "That dog can read my
mind," MacKenzie chuckles as he plants his foot on the accelerator.
"They've spotted that Nissan."
First on the scene, we find the car abandoned on a front lawn, doors wide
open. "Two 'runners'," MacKenzie notes. Ace is frantic with
anticipation as MacKenzie slips on the dog's vest like tracking harness and
clips on the lead.
Without a word from MacKenzie, Ace heads to the driver's side of the car,
turns a circle and dashes off into the rainy night, head and tail down, ears
forward. Ace is tracking a "scent cone," a cocktail of smells from
the suspect's body, his clothing and even the grass he's trampled.
I struggle to keep up as the pair weave through a maze of backyards. Ace
tracks up a driveway, raises his head and tail for an instant and looks to the
right. "Thats the direction the second suspect took," MacKenzie pants. "We'll get back to him in a minute."
Ace is already inside the garage barking at a parked car. Using the abrupt
German commands many handlers prefer, MacKenzie shouts, "PLATZ!"
("Get down") and the dog crouches on the spot.
"Come out of I'll send in the dog!" he yells. A teenage male
crawls out from beneath the car. It has been only two minutes since we spotted
the stolen Nissan.
As backup officers handcuff the suspect, MacKenzie takes Ace back to the
spot where the two suspects separated. "Heavy rain washes the scent away
quickly," MacKenzie says. Nevertheless, Ace picks up the track and we're
off again. Soon there is tension on the leash, which tells MacKenzie the scent
is getting stronger. Suddenly the dog stops and barks. MacKenzie searches with
his flashlight. Five meters up a tree perches another young man. "Call
off your dog," he shouts, fear in his voice.
Other incidents have not ended so peacefully. Once, MacKenzie was awakened
at 3 a.m. by dispatch: An officer had pulled over an impaired driver, who then
knocked her to the ground before fleeing.
At the scene, Ace tracked the suspect into a thick clump of evergreens.
Following behind, MacKenzie heard a sickening thud. He rushed into the grove
just as the suspect kicked the dog. Ace lunged, sank his teeth deep into the
man's thigh and hauled him down screaming. Although Ace had been smashed
across the shoulder with a large rock, he didn't flinch when MacKenzie carefully examined him that night. Two weeks and eight arrests later, it was
discovered the dog had a broken rib.
"Ace lives for me," says MacKenzie, "and he would die for
Raised in Kamloops, B.C., MacKenzie joined the RCMP in 1982 at age 20.
After four years with the RCMP in Alberta, the sandy-haired, blue-eyed officer
moved with his young wife, Shannon, to Saanich, where he joined the municipal
MacKenzie often volunteered to be the "bad guy" during police dog
training and became fascinated by the intelligence of K-9s. "I want to be
a dog man," he told his superior one day in 1990. MacKenzie's request was
granted, and he was given German shepherds with good bloodlines to "test
drive" for persistence, courage, and intelligence. But six months and 16
dogs later, MacKenzie was becoming discouraged. Finally he contacted Sgt. Doug
Deacon, an instructor with the New Westminster Police Service. In February
1992, Deacon found 14-month-old Ace.
At a dog trial, MacKenzie set his stopwatch and sent Ace into a field of
tall grass after a ball. If a dog searches for seven or eight minutes before
giving up, it has potential. Ace searched for 40 minutes. MacKenzie knew he's
found his dog.
In a test for courage, a "bad guy" runs from the dog, then turns
and threatens him. Ninety-nine percent of dogs flee in fear, but Ace stood his
ground. Under gunfire he didn't flinch. As for tracking skills, Ace had only
to be given a scent once and he remembered. After three months training, he
sailed through certification, and on June 22, 1992, MacKenzie hit the streets
with his new partner.
A very real test of the dog's courage occurred in 1994. A man had fired
three shots at Saanich police as they arrived at a farmhouse to answer a
domestic-dispute call. An emergency-response team, along with MacKenzie and
Ace, were called in. Close to 40 officers surrounded the site. For six hours
the man refused to respond.
Finally, at dawn, police fired tear gas through the windows, and the
suspect staggered out clad in a heavy winter coat, hands deep in his pockets.
"Show your hands!" shouted the team leader. Ignoring him, the man
continued towards the bushes where MacKenzie and other officers were thinly
shielded by shrubbery.
MacKenzie commanded the dog to take the suspect "HAGGEMUP!" he
shouted. Ace hit the suspect shoulder high and knocked him flat.
One of Ace's most famous tracks began late one day after a woman walked
into her upstairs bedroom and found an intruder. For an exhausting 40 minutes
after MacKenzie was called to the scene, he followed Ace over dozens of
suburban fences. Suddenly the dog stopped, looked up and barked, his signal
that "the bad guy is right here". MacKenzie could see nothing.
"Where is he, buddy?" he asked. The dog jumped onto a rickety
platform and then to the roof of a woodshed. MacKenzie scrambled up to find
himself face to face with the burglar, lying flat on the roof.
Ace's tracking has proved reliable in court as well. When a repeat
offender, a house burglar, was about to be acquitted because no witnesses
could make a positive identification, MacKenzie stepped in to testify. He
recalled how Ace had located the stolen goods in the bushes the night of the
crime, then tracked the suspect down as he attempted to stroll away.
"A dog's nose is between 3,000 and 30,000 times more sensitive than
our own," he explained. "While we smell our mother's stew, a dog
smells carrots, potatoes, onions and meat."
Persuaded that the dog had found the right man, the judge sentenced the thief
to two years.
In June 1995, MacKenzie noticed Ace walking strangely. Shepherds can have
bad hips, he thought, and took the dog to the local vet Dave Kirby. After
weeks of testing, Dr. Kirby called MacKenzie into his office. "I'm afraid
it's degenerative myelopathy, a disease similar to multiple sclerosis,"
the vet said. The paralysis would move up his spine until until it paralyzed
his lungs. "It's unlikely Ace could continue to work for more than a
month or two. His hind legs could become paralyzed within six months."
Reluctantly MacKenzie set about training another dog. Before Ace got sick,
the team had been training to go to the Canadian Police Canine Association
Trials in Vancouver. Kirby advised against it. "But Ace lives to
track," MacKenzie told the vet. "He'll die faster if I leave him at
On Labor Day, 1995, Ace's fierce concentration and sheer will won the
competition over 35 other teams. But for MacKenzie the victory was
bittersweet; he was sure his friend would soon be gone.
A month later, through persistent research, Kirby located Dr. R. M.
Clemmons of the University of Florida, who had been working with an
experimental medication that looked as though it might slow Ace's disease.
They decided to try it. Miraculously, within two months Ace's paralysis seemed
to stop and he was tracking like his old self again.
Off duty on June 8, 1998, MacKenzie was training Ace in an open field
outside Saanich in the sweltering heat when his pager rang out: Five teenagers
were robbing a home nearby. By the time he arrived, three had been arrested
and two had fled. Ace took off across a field of chest-deep hay. Running flat
out to keep up with the dog, MacKenzie could see the pair fleeing 500 meters ahead.
MacKenzie let Ace off the leash. He leaped across a stream and pulled
down one of the youths. MacKenzie had no handcuffs. "Put your hands
behind your back, and don't move or the dog will get you," he warned the thief. "Stay!" he instructed Ace, then raced off towards the main
road to flag down a police car.
With the first of the runners in custody, MacKenzie and Ace set off after
the second. They tracked through forest and across fields for eight kilometers
until they reached a golf course. Following their progress, several police
cars patrolled the perimeter of the course. Suddenly Ace collapsed, panting
furiously, his eyes glazed over. Heat stroke! I've got to get him to water!
thought MacKenzie. "Police emergency!" he shouted to a golfer.
"I need your cart!"
At the first water hole, he held the dog's head above water and Ace began
to come around. A police officer shouted across the green, "We got
him!" Ace's tracking had forced the suspect into the open.
Less than a month later, on July 1, MacKenzie opened the back door of his
truck to send Ace on a drug search. The dog was so weak he could barely stand
This time Ace was diagnosed with autoimmune hemolytic anemia, a rare
condition in which the body rejects and kills off red blood cells, which carry
oxygen from the lungs.
Devastated, MacKenzie headed home. Around midnight Kirby phoned. "Can
you find another dog for a blood transfusion? It's our last chance."
It was after 2 a.m. when MacKenzie arrived at the clinic with another dog.
All night MacKenzie stayed at Ace's side, and by morning the dog's
red-blood-cell count had risen slightly. "If he makes it through the next
four days, we might get him back," said Kirby.
During the next two weeks, Ace's red-blood-cell count continued to rise,
but he remained very weak. "Let's take him off the drugs and see what
happens," Kirby advised. Within days, Ace began to improve.
For two months MacKenzie kept Ace off the job. Then, one evening in late
August, the dog whined so piteously as his partner headed out on shift that MacKenzie
relented. "Let's go tracking," he said, slipping on the
harness. Ace worked like he'd never been away. The following morning MacKenzie
told Kirby he was taking Ace with him to the Nationals the following weekend.
On September 4, without a single training session, Ace tracked and searched
and apprehended "criminals" with such skill that he won the Canadian
Police Canine Association Trials for the third time. "He's some kind of
wonder dog," Kirby confesses. "Most dogs just don't have his kind of
Ace's paralysis has never returned, and today Canada's top police dog
continues to work at MacKenzie's side.