Lonca is among Canada's top dogs.
The three-year-old German Shepherd was inducted into the Purina Animal Hall of Fame on May 3.
Started 48 years ago, the annual event celebrates the extraordinary acts of animal heroism.
Just 10 months after graduating, Lonca was attacked while helping police execute a search warrant at a residential address in November 2015.
“We were driving around the city when the call came in to assist with a search warrant,” recalled Constable Steve Balice, Lonca’s partner. “When I got on site, it was very standard. Our goal was to go the rear to make sure that nobody in that residential area would actually flee.”
As Emergency Task Force (ETF) members breached the front entrance, a man exited through a rear door.
“He was running frantically and he had something waving in his hands,” Balice recounted. “I didn’t know what it was. It looked like a weapon at the time. He started to make his way from the back to the front at which point I was making numerous demands for him to stop running. My first fear was him encountering the unsuspecting officers at the front.”
Balice released Lonca to apprehend the suspect.
“Without fear, the dog was able to approach the male suspect on the front driveway,” Balice added. “It was only then that I realized the weapon that he actually had was a machete. He started swinging it at Lonca, hitting him numerous times in the face and neck.”
Despite the injuries, Lonca didn’t back off.
He positioned himself between the suspect and the officers, preventing anyone from being harmed and then returned to the rear of the building to help ETF officers arrest a female suspect.
The dog was then transported to the veterinarian to be treated for his injuries.
“He had a chipped canine tooth and received five stitches to the muzzle and two to his paw,” said the handler who joined the Service 17 years ago.
Lonca made a full recovery and was back on the job two weeks after the incident.
“This is a special moment for me and Lonca,” Balice said at the induction ceremony at Purina PawsWay. “I wasn’t surprised at the speed from which he bounced back from his injuries because he’s very strong and hardworking.”
The dog and handler were united just over a year ago.
“I have always being fascinated with dogs,” said Balice, who joined the Police Dog Services (PDS) Unit after working at 11 Division and with the Marine Unit. “My father was a mechanic and he bought retired police dogs to guard his garage in Hamilton. PDS was always was on my radar, so I was happy when I was assigned to the unit and extremely delighted to be matched up with Lonca.”
Constable Dave Stubbs, who trains Toronto police dogs, said Lonca possesses an incredible amount of drive, tenacity, fearlessness and speed.
“It didn’t take long for him to get the nickname ‘The Furry Missile,’” he said. “…Lonca and Steve’s personalities were the perfect fit and their bond as partners were established at a very early stage. They challenged each other and they have worked extremely well. After we bought Lonca and I went to test him out, I quickly realized he had everything that I was looking for. I just had to match him up with a handler so they could gel.”
Staff Sergeant James Hung said the induction was a proud moment for the Service and PDS.
“It recognizes all the hard work and the intense training that the unit does,” he noted. “It also highlights the bravery of these dogs and what they are capable of doing under pressure.”
The suspect who attacked Lonca is the first in Canada to be charged under Quanto’s Law which was enacted in July 2015 to safeguard law enforcement animals and punish those that harm them.
Under the new law, anyone convicted of killing or injuring a service animal could serve a maximum of five years behind bars. A minimum sentence of six months would be handed down for a conviction if the animal in question was killed.
In some circumstances, the sentence might be added to any other sentence related to the same crime.
The law was inspired by Edmonton Police Service member Quanto who was stabbed to death in the line of duty nearly three years ago. The dog was posthumously inducted into the Purina Hall of Fame in 2014.
“I would like to dedicate this award to Quanto,” Balice said, in his acceptance speech.
Lonco is the third police canine member to be inducted into the Purina Hall of Fame since the “Service Dog of the Year” category was created in 1993.
Cato was the inaugural recipient that year after he and his handler, Constable Stephen McEdwards, successfully apprehended a break-and-enter suspect after a foot chase and struggle.
In 1997, Keno was inducted after he and his partner – Constable John Gerrits – apprehended a break-and-enter suspect. The dog suffered serious leg and head injuries.
Established in 1989, PDS comprises 21 handlers and 30 dogs.
“This is an incredible group that works for our city,” Stubbs pointed out. “The relationship between a handler and police service dog is one that really exemplifies how strong that bind can be. It’s one that is indescribable. These police dogs are put in extremely dangerous situations on a regular basis and they protect us as we do them at all cost.”
Since its inception in 1968, a total of 147 dogs, 27 cats and a horse have been inducted into the Purina Hall of Fame.
Other inductees this year were Zora, Rex and Raya.
“Each year, we receive and uncover countless stories of remarkable acts of animals saving human lives,” said Purina Hall of Fame ambassador Melissa Eckersley. “We feel very privileged to honour these extraordinary animals and share their stories with all Canadians.”