Const. Jason Whittaker goes to work with a bit more reassurance these days, knowing full well that his four-legged partner, Brock, is protected from harm.
The Saanich dog handler was instrumental in passing a provincial law last week that prevents cruelty toward service animals.
“My partner is truly my partner. He takes care of me, he’s willing to do anything I ask of him, he acts in place of a police officer,” Whittaker said. “These animals have been seen as nothing more than tools or resources. But they’re living breathing animals … What I showed Brock is that the partnership goes both ways.”
Under the province’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, amended Thursday, it is now an offence to cause harm to a service animal. The penalty is up to two years in prison and/or a fine up to $75,000.
Whittaker began the process of asking for this new legislation in January, after realizing a common concern among provincial and national law enforcement agencies was the lack of protection for service animals.
“We’ve created a deterrent where there’s been none. We have a national monument in Innisfail, Alta. for police dogs killed in the line of duty. Thirty-two names are on that monument, 14 of them came from British Columbia,” he said. “We’re taking a stand. We are now the toughest province on any type of cruelty to animal.”
Brock is a four-year-old purebred German shepherd. He’s worked with Whittaker since May 2008. His 39-year-old partner says he joined law enforcement to become a dog handler.
The legislation protects dogs and horses who assist in such operations as crowd control, offender apprehension, search and rescue, and drug or explosives detection, according the Ministry of Agriculture.
“We’re really proud of the work that Jason’s put in to this and the initiative that he’s shown, the compassion that he’s got, for police service dogs in particular,” said deputy chief Bob Downie. “He recognized there was a need and he did something about it, all in the name of serving his community, making a difference in his community.”
Whittaker says it was only seven weeks ago that he sat down with deputy minister Wes Shoemaker about undertaking this legislature venture.
Timing was everything, he explained, because the ministry was already looking at cruelty prevention law recommendations from the Whistler sled dog task force.
“This is the culmination of every single law enforcement agency throughout the province that supported this, brought together by a common thread: the love of animals and the mandate to protect them,” Whittaker said. “Brock’s the best partner I’ve ever had. I know he’d protect me when I need it. This is my token thing back for him, to show him I’m doing everything I can to protect him.”