The newest police dog has the skills to sniff out firearms and illicit drugs, much like many of her four-legged colleagues, but also has the additional gift of helping to heal members of the Service family.
Garda, a one-year-old Springer Spaniel firearm and drug detector dog, is named after Darius Garda, a 51 Division officer who died in early 2016 after struggling with his mental health issues.
The Garda family was welcomed to Police Dog Services to watch as the dog, named after their loved one, received her badge in recognition of being ready for the road and had a chance to play with the dog and talk to her handler, Constable Andrew Watts.
Garda’s sister, Dilnaz, said her family is touched by the gesture from fellow officers.
“I realized, as a family, that we’re not the only ones hurting, that 51 Division and all of TPS hurt as well. When they wanted to do something so meaningful and so special, it made us, as a family, know that my brother will always remain in the hearts and memories and that’s what we want for his memory to always be alive,” said Dilnaz Garda, who was joined by her mother and father, husband and two children in celebrating the newest police dog. “We feel honoured. We love that Garda has a badge and it’s just perfect.”
She says the police dog is a great representation of her brother’s dedication to community.
“It just feels like my brother is still policing through Garda and still making a difference in the community,” says Dilnaz, who continues to work alongside the Toronto Police Service to support the mental health of Service members through her Toronto Beyond the Blue non-profit organization.
Detective Sergeant Anne-Marie Bishop says officers at 51 Division sought many ways to honour Garda’s legacy, which included hundreds of officers holding a private memorial service for the family and Service members, after his death, speaking from the heart about his wit and intelligence.
“We were thinking of a way to honour Darius,” says Bishop. “A few of the things about Darius we certainly knew well is that he loved being a police officer and he loved dogs. So it came together that way.”
Bishop sought permission from the family, who embraced the idea, then asked fellow 51 Division officers for funds. Within a week, they had the $3,700 needed for the living memorial.
“It’s a positive thing and it reminds us of him,” says Bishop. “When someone in the community asks about the dog’s name, they can learn a little about him.”
Watts says he is now on patrol with the dog and his general purpose dog, Nyx, a German Shepherd.
“Garda’s role will be to look for firearms and narcotics,” he says. “Everyone who knows Springer Spaniels knows they’re full of energy… but when they get to searching, they stay on task and they’re a completely different dog. They’re calm and work a room or an area with ease.”
Watts was able to show her abilities to the Garda family and friends who watched as she purposely edged along a fenceline and ramp, sitting when she located hashish and gunpowder.