04/27/2007

Dogged Canadian: Only second female K-9 cop in Calgary's history

BY SARAH KENNEDY 
Calgary Sun (Alberta, Canada)
 
ALBERTA — Const. Lilly Hall's bark is worse than her bite.

With her commanding voice, she leaves the biting to her partner-in-crime Nate, a two-year-old German shepherd.

Hall is only the second woman in Calgary police history to train as a canine officer, but after one year in the unit, she is still very humble about her accomplishment.

"There's only a little over 200 women in the service and there's maybe not a lot on the streets that this would appeal to," Hall, 36, said yesterday.

"You have to have a certain size and height."

Hall demonstrates her point during a training session, when Nate has clamped his teeth onto the arm of a "bad guy" and she lifts the approximately 5-ft.-5, 85 lb., dog clear off the ground to force him to let go.

Nine months of gruelling training that included throwing 80 lb. sacks over a fence and running more than 10 km a day -- prior to hitting the streets with Nate -- has allowed Hall to do that with ease.

The training is so intense because canine officers are always called to the most dangerous scenes -- often involving weapons and foot chases.

During Hall's first arrest as a canine officer she was called to a house where they believed a suspect may have been hiding in the basement and it wasn't known if he was armed.

"I called out several times but there was no answer," she said.

"The guy ended up being wrapped up in a sleeping bag and hiding under a mattress and the dog indicated he was under there.

"You can't always see but you can feel on the dog line."

It can be nerve-wracking but for Hall it's more exciting.

Hall's admiration for canine first developed when she was a rookie constable with only a couple of days on the job.

"My first arrest was during a foot chase in Fish Creek Park when a canine unit caught my bad guy," she said.

"I just thought it was the coolest thing.

"It's something I wanted for so long."

And she earned it after working nine years as a street constable, spending countless hours at the gym with a personal trainer and devoting hundreds of hours in her spare time to work in the canine unit as a quarry -- allowing dogs to attack and bite her as part of their training. And she has the scars to prove it.

If Hall is hesitant to pat herself on the back, Insp. Joan McCallum, the first woman to be hired in the Calgary canine unit, isn't.

"I was thrilled and I e-mailed her right away," said McCallum.

"It's been 25 years since they hired another woman and I didn't want to be the first or the last woman hired in canine.

"Policing is still a very male-dominated world."

Hall's boss, Sgt. Shawn Sykes, said it's an accomplishment for anyone to be hired into the canine unit regardless of gender.

"This isn't for the faint-hearted," he said.

The 15 constables and two sergeants in canine work 12-hour shifts, covering the city on a 24-hour basis.

Many of their calls take place at night when most crimes tend to happen and canine officers often work alone.

"This is a very physically demanding job and you have to be very strong whether you're a man or a woman," said Sykes.

"We're very proud of Lilly and we think she's been doing a great job."
 
Copyright 2007 Sun Media Corporation
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