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Police Patrol Dog Graduation

Greymouth Police officer Constable Damien O’Kane has put aside promotion and shifted from the Waikato to the West Coast to fulfil his dream job – to become a dog handler.

Tomorrow (Thursday, 6 December) he achieves it when, along with six other first time handlers and three seasoned ‘veterans’ requalifying with new dogs, Constable O’Kane and Pac graduate as an operational patrol team from the New Zealand Police Dog Training Centre at Trentham.

Constable O’Kane’s decision to give up supervisory roles raised some eyebrows but he also had support in his quest.

The former Sergeant, and head of Huntly West Neighbourhood Policing Team for three years and Acting Senior Sergeant for five months in the Waikato West Response Manager role, opted to “go for it, don’t regret” when a trainee dog handler position was advertised for Tasman District.

He was successful and shifted south in February this year to begin a new track in his career.

“Being a dog handler was something I always wanted to do, right from graduating at the Police College in 2006,” he says.

“It just went on the back burner for a bit while I fostered puppies, passed promotion exams and worked in other roles

“I thoroughly enjoyed my frontline experience and supervising staff in Waikato, but it was while fostering my third Police pup that I realised dogs is where I want to be, actively out on the street and not in an office.”

He’s loved training with two-year-old Pac and is looking forward to starting their new role together.

Inspector Todd Southall, National Coordinator, Police Dogs, says the calibre of the handlers and dogs graduating is down to the hard work and determination of the officers themselves, well supported by Dog Section selection and the training processes for handlers and dogs.

“We’re a high performing team in Police and positions when they come up are always keenly contested.”

Also graduating tomorrow is another first time handler for Tasman District, Constable Kyle White and Vako (22 months), who are based in Blenheim.

The pair have gone so well together in training that they’ve completed and passed their operational qualification earlier than expected.

Constable White has been in police six years and has worked in Wellington and Hastings before being appointed to Tasman Dog Section.

The new team started their first shift on Friday night.

Northland District also has two handlers graduating.

They are Constables Alan Duncan and Yawk (21 months) and Constable Josh Van Der Kwaak and Caesar (20 months), who will both be working in Northland’s mid to far north area.

Constable Duncan has been a dog handler for seven of his 13 years in police.

He’s had two previous dogs, most recently Zarr (8), who is about to retire to live with a former handler in Dunedin with Yawk, who is a willing replacement.

Constable Van Der Kwaak is a first time handler, who has been with police six years.

Wellington also has two new handlers in Constables Cam Mullenger with Loki (2) and Regan Woodmass with Taylor (23 months) - both are first time handlers.

Constable Mullenger has previously worked in Whangärei in a variety of roles, including time as an Acting Sergeant in Dargaville.

He was appointed earlier this year to Wellington.

Colleague Constable Regan Woodmass worked in Central District including Levin until transferring to Wellington.

Central District’s Senior Constable Christian Hogan joined police in 1996 and has been a dog handler for most of his career in Whanganui.

He’s had six previous dogs including two qualified for Armed Offenders Squad work.

Veto (22 months) is his seventh dog.

Other teams graduating are:
• Constable Craig Moore, Canterbury, with Yuko (21 months). Constable Moore also has Oz and the pair were National Patrol Dog Champions in 2017.
• Constable Ben Nelson and Darth (18 months), Auckland. He’s been in police five years and joined Auckland Dog Section earlier this year.
• Constable Matt Donnithorne and Yunka (21 months), Eastern District. A Hawke’s Bay Area local, Constable Donnithorne joined police in 2009 after a career with the Royal NZ infantry Regiment. He’s worked in a variety of policing roles in Hawke’s Bay and Yunka is his first dog.

Some dog facts:
• Yuko, Yawk and Yunka are from the same litter bred at Trentham. Yunka, according to her handler is “bossier” than her brothers.
• Veto and Vako are siblings.

Tomorrow’s graduation ceremony will be attended by Assistant Commissioner Mike Rusbatch: APEC and other members of the Executive. It starts at 1pm, Thursday, 6 December, at the Police Dog Training Centre, Dante Road, Trentham.


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