15:51 9 March 2017
FEATURE: Success story of toy poodle police dog offers community lessons
By Takaki Tominaga
HITACHINAKA, Japan, March 9, Kyodo
A veteran police dog handler and his canine, a toy poodle, a rather unorthodox breed for a police dog, have been busy lately, not only with work at crime scenes or searching for missing persons but also with community outreach.
The dog handler's message to parents: don't give up on your children's dreams or limit their career choices based on preconceived notions or prejudice, as there should be many ways for them to live their lives by maximizing their talents and potential -- just like he never gave up on his toy poodle Anzu.
At a lecture held last month in Ibaraki Prefecture, northeast of Tokyo, Hirofusa Suzuki, the dog handler, expressed his hope that people will learn from the success story of his once abandoned pooch now excelling as a police dog.
"Instead of stereotyping, like small pet dogs should live their lives as pet dogs, I think we ought to help maximize their potential," Suzuki said.
"If (dogs) become aware of their own potential, it is important for us to prepare an environment where they can bloom," he said.
The lecture this time was organized as part of the Hitachinaka municipal government's family education classes, targeting parents of the Horiguchi and Ichige elementary school students. This notion of not stereotyping, Suzuki said, can also be applied to humans.
The 4-year-old toy poodle Anzu enjoys popularity among the general public and police speak glowingly of her work.
The tiny dog has been working with big dogs on police activities as she has developed her talents since being adopted by Suzuki when she was 3 months old.
She was saved by Suzuki when she was about to be put down after her initial owner got rid of her because the owner was not able to toilet-train her, and Anzu barked at night.
Anzu appeared to have been abused since she was really scared of people, especially women, Suzuki said, and her healing process started with building a trusting relationship with the Suzuki family, including other dogs.
Suzuki, 66, lives with Anzu and German shepherds, also police dogs, in the village of Tokai. He said while he was training the dogs to track down the scent on footprints, Anzu also showed an interest in the exercise.
Anzu also discovered her sharp sense of smell; she began digging up the ground and sniffing around by watching and learning the behavior of the German shepherds, he said.
"She began behaving as if she were a German shepherd," he said.
"So probably, it is more like my dogs, rather than myself, who made Anzu into a police dog," said Suzuki, who has been involved in police dog training for some 30 years.
Suzuki suggested parents make parallels with raising children.
"What I would like to underscore is (the importance of) environment. It is probably the same for your children, too. There are many ways to live their lives," Suzuki said, arguing that like dogs, children benefit from a variety of stimuli.
Amid the Ibaraki prefectural police's attempt to expand the scope of police dog recruitment to all dog breeds on a trial basis, Anzu passed the test at the first attempt and has been hired as a commissioned police dog since January 2016.
There are two kinds of police dogs in Japan -- ones that are kept, managed and trained by police and others that are kept, managed and trained by private citizens.
The latter are called commissioned police dogs and they are also ready to be rushed to investigative scenes when called upon.
Police dogs used by the Ibaraki prefectural police are all commissioned dogs, according to Suzuki and the police website.
Anzu was mobilized with other dogs in around 10 cases, including searches for missing persons and finding material evidence at crime scenes last year.
Since fewer households keep big dogs these days, the trend of employing small- and medium-sized canines as police dogs will increase, Suzuki said, adding a division of labor based on the size of dogs and characteristics of breeds can be effective in investigations.
Suzuki pointed out that small dogs possess some strengths as police dogs compared with big dogs. They are good at finding small objects large dogs tend to overlook; they can engage in investigation in public spaces without drawing attention; and they can fit into narrow spaces.
Anzu has been making her presence felt in searches for evidence and missing persons by playing on her strengths and characteristics, according to Suzuki.
Mari Takebayashi, a mother of a fifth grader in her 30s who attended the lecture, said she found "something common" with caring for and training dogs and raising and educating children.
She said she learned about "finding hidden talents in young people" and trying not to be judgmental about the strengths and weaknesses of her own child.