Bravo the ‘Four-Legged’ commandos!

Jyoti Krishan Dutt, Indian Police Service (Retd.) was Director General of National Security Guard (NSG) from August 2006 to February 2009. India saw him and his brave Black Cat Commandos in action during the 26/11 terrorist attack at Mumbai. Now retired and living in Delhi, not many people are aware that he is an avid dog lover. In conversation with Ekta and Anuj, he talks of ‘Dogs’ in the service of the nation and dog squads that are a part of paramilitary and state police forces of the country.

Jyoti Krishan Dutt, Indian Police Service (Retd.) has lived upto the expectations of his profession. Here, he recounts interesting anecdotes relating to police dogs from his career and tells us about the key role a sniffer dog played in the 26/11 incident, which not many know about.

Dog squads… then and now!

While I joined the Indian Police Service in 1971, not many state police forces at that time had well trained dog squads or in adequate numbers. One of the reasons I feel was that in those days, dog squads were associated with ‘high expenses’ – in terms of food, building and maintaining kennels, breeding, transport, vets on call and handlers who could provide the requisite exercise and training. However, I do recall that many state police forces did have horses which were used in ceremonial parades and sometimes for crowd control. As such, I am not sure how valid was the ‘high expenses’ rationale.

Gradually, towards the 1980s, the outlook changed and dogs were introduced in policing in India. These were the usual breeds, such as, German Shepherds and Labradors. No other breed at that time was found suitable for police related duties. In the UK for some official work, I spoke to the London Metropolitan Police officers on their experiences with dogs and was quite surprised to learn that their dog squads were being in ‘active policing’. Patrol cars would have an officer and a trained K9 in the car. When required – if a suspect tried to flee the scene of the crime, the dog would be ordered to chase. A snarling German Shepherd running behind the suspect would be enough to make the miscreant stop in fear and surprisingly the dog would not attack or bite the suspect, as popularly believed. Instead snarling, gnashing his teeth, he would stand guard till the officer came up and restrained the suspect. I also learnt that in the USA, a dog on duty with the police is considered at par with the officer in terms of all legal protection. Hence, if the suspect tries to injure or harm a police dog, it is in the eyes of the law at par with an assault on the police officer and invites the same punishment as in the case of assault on an officer on duty. In high risk jobs, specially designed canine bullet proof jackets are made for the dog to prevent a knife or a bullet from injuring the dog.

When I visited the USA in later years, it was interesting to see Beagles and Cocker Spaniels at major international airports, not just on anti-narcotic smuggling duties, but also for detecting certain food items from being brought into the country by tourists, etc, which were prohibited under the US law.

Working K9s in India…

In India, K9 units are not used in active policing like in the UK or USA. They are primarily confined to sniffer duties, tracking of criminals by following a scent trail or detection of explosives and narcotics. Here I want to point out a popular myth: a sniffer dog does not paw the bag or container or bark when they detect an explosive. This is so because over the years, terrorist organisations have started using noise sensors or motion detectors in the explosive device and a bark or pushing/nudging the container with the paw is enough to set off the detonator. Dogs who sniff out such explosives usually use a rapid tail movement or just sit down next to the bag to signal the presence of an explosive. The training that goes into getting the dog to respond in this manner in a high stress situation requires trainers and handlers of an exceptionally high order and such individuals are amongst the best we have in the country.

What’s in a name?

Here’s an interesting anecdote around naming of police dogs, which at times could become quite a detailed intellectual exercise! While visiting a district I was introduced to the K9 unit deployed there. I was given their names as Brandy, Whiskey, Regal, Walker & Vodka. I suggested that the next set of dogs sent for training, should be given more ‘traditional and simpler’ names as introducing the K9 unit with their names being different types of alcohol varieties or brand names to a visiting dignitary may not go down well. The message I think went home and soon, on a subsequent visit, I was greeted by Mogambo, Kalia, Natwarlal and Gabbar. I let this pass!

Life of a K9 Commando…

When I took over as Director General of NSG, I used to enjoy visiting the NSG kennels whenever I could which are located close to Delhi. The north Indian summer was a matter of concern with regards to the dogs’ ability to cope with soaring temperatures. We started with installing fans in their kennels and then added desert coolers to keep them comfortable.

In November 2006, on the NSG Raising Day, we had a demonstration by the commandos abseiling from helicopters and a huge cheer went up from the spectators when a black Labrador came slithering down from a height of about 50 meters strapped to the back of his handler. In operational scenarios this would be exactly how a K9 unit would be inserted in a trouble spot.

All K9 handlers on such operations would carry in their backpack a steel bowl (for giving water and food) and a bag of feed for the dog in his care.

The 26/11 Mumbai attack…

The 26/11 Mumbai incidents will not be forgotten for a long time. The NSG reached Mumbai on the morning of 27th November 2008. I travelled in the same transport plane as my commandos and we had the Labradors from the NSG K9 unit on the flight. During the flight, I was seated on the armaments and stores boxes, talking to my officers and commandos. The interesting part was that each of the dogs was resting peacefully in the aircraft, oblivious of what awaited us. The engine drone did not bother them a bit nor did the bullets and blasts later!

As the operations drew to a close on 29th November 2008, I was repeatedly asked by the press as to how many terrorists were there. Till a point in time, we held the number at nine terrorists which changed when a K9 unit clearing the Wasabi Restaurant at The Taj Hotel of unexploded grenades and possible booby traps sniffed out a dead terrorist’s body buried under the burnt debris of curtains, furniture, etc. If this had not happened, we would have continued to believe till today that only nine terrorists attacked Mumbai during those dark days.

Life after retirement…

After having been on the job for around eight years, police dogs are taken off the duty roster permanently. Some countries have tried working with older dogs in the 8+ years age range with mixed results. Re-homing these dogs, at times, is a challenge. I firmly believe that we need to work out a sound solution as the words “We gave our today for a safer tomorrow for you” applies equally to these silent and loyal ‘four-legged commandos’ of ours as well.

My loving pets…

“Since childhood, dogs have been an integral part of my life. I have had the pleasure of experiencing companionship from various breeds such as Cocker Spaniel, Alsatian, Labrador, Golden Retriever and Spitz as pets. Around Diwali in 2008, Zorro – a Pug stepped into our lives. Popularly known as ‘Chotta Recharge’ by our neighbour’s children (based on the popular mobile phone advertisements that feature the Pug), he has been with us for five years now and is the life of the house. His innocent, expressive eyes and a demeanour that is all about unconditional love is what touches my wife and me the most.”

–Jyoti Krishan Dutt