It was a cold night, last September. Toronto Police Dog Services Constable John Massey was driving back to his 54 Division station in East York.
A call came over the radio about a “suspicious package” found on the Leaside Bridge, not far from his station.
“That obviously triggers some alarms,” Massey said.
The “suspicious package” was a backpack. Inside, was a suicide note.
“I just volunteered for the call,” he said. “A lot of the time we wait to get dispatched, but I know the area.”
Massey drove down a back road that led to a paved path, taking him alongside the Don River and underneath the bridge. He and his tracking dog, Jetta, began their search.
It was dark, and he didn’t know where on the bridge the backpack was found. Jetta, the first-ever female General Purpose Dog in the unit, quickly picked up the scent.
“We get to the river, and I start noticing a change in my dog,” he said. “Jetta took me to the edge, where I’d say 30 feet from the bank, was a person. A young man, sitting in the water.”
Massey directed Jetta not to go into the water. He wasn’t sure how deep it was; he also couldn’t determine the state of mind of the man in the river. She obeyed, barking from the bank, as she’s trained to once finding the source of a scent. Massey called out to the man.
On Tuesday April 5, the Toronto Police Service recognized Massey and Jetta for their work that September night during a ceremony held at Toronto Police Headquarters. The officer and his partner had met the challenge of the night’s work, Jetta with her snout and Const. Massey with his training and sense of teamwork.
At the awards presentation, Massey received a Teamwork Commendation award, while Jetta was awarded a Chief of Police Letter of Recognition.
On making voice contact with the man, Massey said he knew he had to respond.
“That was the ultimate reason to say, ‘I’m going to go into the water to help this guy,’” he said. “You gotta go in and at least make an attempt to get him.”
Other officers were now on the scene. Massey and Constable Adrian Elliott entered the water, lifted the man, and carried him out. Paramedics arrived, loaded the man onto a backboard, and the six of them carried him through the tall grass and swampy ground to a waiting ambulance. Staff Sergeant James Hung is Massey’s supervisor.
“(Massey) and his partner Jetta work very well together,” Hung said . “They’ve been instrumental in finding people.”
A 16-year veteran, Massey set his eyes on the canine unit when he was in police college.
“Everybody’s got those days where they just don’t feel like going in to work,” he said. “But then you walk outside and your (dog) partner’s going, ‘Hey, let’s get going; we got calls to do; we got guys to find. Let’s go.’ It’s a great motivator.”
He joined the canine unit in 2009. He and Jetta have been partners from the beginning.
“When did I know she was really good?” he said. “Probably about two weeks into the (training) course. She’s a rock star.”
Recalling the rescue last September, Massey deflects the spotlight.
“I said this from the beginning, ‘The paramedics should’ve been involved in the awards as well,’” he said. “They were a significant part of the team.”
His sergeant wasn’t surprised by Massey’s comment.
“He’s very humble, that’s for sure,” Sgt. Hung said. “To him it’s just another day at the office. I have to keep reminding him, ‘Every day, you guys do extraordinary things.’”