By Stephen Petrick
You could call it an ultimate underdog story.
Or, as Kristyn Begbie and David Hutnyk both say, it’s a one-in-a-million, beat-the-odds type of journey.
Tracker, a German shepherd, appears about to embark on a career as a security dog, just months after being rehabilitated at Minden’s Snowflake Meadows Rescue.
“This never happens,” said Snowflake Meadows owner Kristyn Begbie. “It’s a one-in-a-million (story).”
In a separate interview, Hutnyk, who now cares for Tracker as part of his business K9ine Security, called the dog a “one-in-a-million find.”
They both say Tracker’s story is a remarkable reminder of how love and determination can make a difference in an animal’s life and why it’s important to never give up on a dog. Or, as Hutnyk said, it’s a reminder of how “every dog has its day.”
Tracker came to Snowflake Meadows mid last year. A friend of Begbie’s in Durham region knew about the dog and convinced its owners to allow her to take him to the rescue centre. Tracker was believed to be about 15 months old at the time. Begbie said that, at the time, Tracker was skinny, with his ribs showing and he had fleas. She believes he spent much of his early life chained up and was not well socialized.
“We fixed him up and I let him decompress,” she said.
In time, she started to realize that Tracker was not like other dogs. She described him as “confident” and full of potential. When she enrolled him in obedience training, “he thrived. He loved it.”
As Tracker got ready for adoption, Begbie posted about his progress on social media. The posts caught the eye of Hutnyk.
K9ine Security, based in Port Hope, is a business that searches for rescue dogs and trains them to work in security. The business has clients throughout Ontario and much of its work occurs in the Greater Toronto Area.
Hutnyk said the business responds to alarm calls, provides event security and other private tasks. Their dogs serve as “visual deterrents” but are also trained for search and rescue and to sniff out contraband. They sometimes work with police units, too.
Like Begbie, Hutnyk noted that Tracker had a rare sense of “confidence” and was quick to pick up on training commands.
He said when he looks for dogs, he’s looking for those who are not aggressive and do not have anxiety issues. Tracker seemed to be a good fit. He had what Hutnyk described as a large “prey drive” meaning his nose was always to the ground.
He adopted Tracker in November and, as he sped through training, it was becoming more and more apparent that the dog had special gifts.
“He showed intelligence and a willingness to please and that’s a huge asset,” Hutnyk said.
And that confidence continued to shine.
During one day of training, “he climbed an open fire escape on the side of a building without hesitation. I’ve never seen another dog do that.”
While Tracker’s training is not complete, Hutnyk said that he has no doubt that the dog is about to have a long career working at K9ine Security, where he’ll be kept in good health and cared for.
Like human workers, security dogs have to go through a combination of off duty and on-the-job training, Hutnyk said. So far, Tracker is passing the test. On New Year’s Eve, Hutnyk had Tracker working in a busy area of Toronto and “he wasn’t freaking out. He was just watching people … It was a good test for him; he’s an incredible dog.”
Hutnyk knows that Tracker’s success story is rare, because his business specializes in working with rescue dogs. He opts to not purchase pre-trained dogs, because his goal is to find rescue dogs and, hopefully, give them a better life.
“With that, there’s a lot of challenges,” he said. “As much as we like a good success story, not everyone meets the challenges that we need.” He said the odds of a dog turning out like Tracker after such a tough start to his early life is “very slim.”
But Tracker seemed destined for this type of work.
Begbie said she had many families with young children that were interested in adopting Tracker, but they just didn’t seem like the right fit, perhaps because of his earlier life.
“He was super duper friendly with everyone he met but if you moved quickly or cornered him, he had a look to him where he was leery,” she said.
Yet, that characteristic – and his incredible desire to please – matched well with what Hutnyk needed.
He said the profession of training security dogs comes with “big risk and there’s a big margin of error. But there’s also a big reward, especially if you get a dog like Tracker.”