A Shimmer of hope on Toronto’s streets

Shimmer is just one of many dogs who have needed special veterinary care.

But what makes Shimmer special is she’s a drug dog with the Toronto Police Services.

She and her colleagues are looked after by veterinarian Dr. Avery Gillick, at Morningside Animal Clinic, located in East Scarborough.

The technicians at Morningside Animal Clinic pamper Shimmer after her knee surgery.Shimmer recently underwent knee surgery to repair a torn cruciate ligament.

“With working dogs, these things do happen and it’s usually a result of trauma,” said Gillick, who established Morningside clinic in 1974 after graduating from the University of Guelph.

He has been treating Toronto’s service dogs for the last 18 years.

Typically, the police dogs come in for routine check-up – the clinic has never had to deal with a major emergency like a bullet wound.

Over the years there has been great emphasis put on the importance of preventative health care, he said.

With Gillick’s strong influence, the police have great policies in place to ensure at the first signs of health issues – the dogs are dealt with – and every means necessary are taken to maintain their quality of life.

Shimmer poses for the camera just one day after having knee surgery.By reinforcing this policy, the officers are not put in an uncomfortable position where they feel insecure about mentioning their dogs health issues for fear they will be taken away or euthanized.

Gillick said there are specific criteria the dogs must meet in order to pursue a career in the force.

“The dog will be passed based on X-rays, physical exam, blood work and lab findings,” he said. “These findings prove whether or not the patient is healthy enough to enter the Police Dog Services.”

“If we find an abnormality, we discuss it with the powers that be within Police Dog Services,” Gillick said.

“Depending on the severity of the abnormality, the dog will either be passed or not passed.”

Once Gillick approves, the police do further tests to assess their tracking abilities, agility levels and overall drive.

About 20 per cent of the dogs don’t make it through training, often times because of environmental factors, according to Sgt. Steve McEdwards who, for the last seven years, has been the K-9 Unit’s chief instructor.

“We get a lot of dogs from overseas, and some of them have never even seen a building. They’re outdoor dogs,” McEdwards said.

“These dogs will test out well chasing the ball, listening, being friendly, then all of a sudden when you take them into the building, all fours go out – they freeze and collapse.”

The officers work on these issues, but sometimes they can’t be resolved, so the dogs are sent back

McEdwards is one of Toronto Police’s original dog handlers.

“We were pretty well an instant success when we started. At the time there were no K-9 Units, crime was increasing in the city. We couldn’t keep up with the calls,” he said.

According to McEdwards, everybody loves the police dogs and they get special attention no matter where they go.

“I love animals and I love being a policeman so when you put it all together, it’s just a great feeling,” he said. “Everyone always tends to remember the dog, and that’s ok.

The police officer is number two and the dogs are always number one, they make us look good,” said McEdwards with a chuckle.

As for Shimmer, she’ll be back on the streets in about six to eight weeks, in top gun shape.