Shresta Jaisingh on how the police dog squad has been serving the city with dogged determination

As you walk into the Chennai Police Detective Dog Squad and Training Centre in Egmore, you can’t miss the charm of an old yet unyielding building. Just off Police Commissioner’s Road, the entrance to this one-storey structure comprises a sandy area covered with pug marks. Inside, the rooms are modest and plastered from ceiling to floor with photos of medal-winning dogs, trophies, a shield, a board covered with medals and a calendar with pictures of dogs. Beyond a compound wall are 25-odd kennels. Step into this compound and you cannot escape the loud barks as the dogs announce the presence of an intruder.

Suddenly, on cue, about a dozen dogs stand in line, while a Doberman pinscher marches ahead towards a dog handler standing at the head of the squad. Without a moment’s notice, an object is thrown into the air across a three-foot-high hurdle and the dog quickly follows, jumps and retrieves it. There is a flash of metal and a Rajapalayam hound jumps through an iron ring without a moment’s hesitation. This is just a day in the life of the city’s oldest police dog squad which has been on duty for 61 years.

The Madras City Police Dog Squad was started under Sub-Inspector of Police Kanniah Naidu in 1952. It was set up in the CB-CID buildings on Mount Road and was shifted to Egmore in 1956. “We are the oldest dog squad in this country. We have trained other squads across Tamil Nadu,” says Sub-Inspector of Police, Dog Squad Division, P. Vishwanathan.

Back then, Madras police was the first to use sniffer dogs for detection and tracking. It is said that the larger and stronger breeds, such as Alsatians, were imported from countries such as Germany. Two years after the squad was instituted, permanent kennels were built at Egmore. And at that point, the squad could breed and train only six dogs.

A few years of training later, the dog squad became a standalone department with a Sub-Inspector in charge of training all the dog handlers. The handlers are all constables of police. A former Assistant Inspector General of Police P. Kuppuswamy was even sent to London to study training of police dogs to initiate better management methods here. By 1977, the kennel had grown to accommodate ten dogs, nine of them German Shepherds.

The squad’s headquarters’ list of visitors boasts of prominent figures such as former Chief Minister C.N. Annadurai and the Mysore maharaja.

In 1991, a Special Security Group became part of the Tamil Nadu Commando Force with sniffer dogs to detect explosives. In 2000, new squads were authorised and trained in Chennai before being sent out to various locations across the state. Over 100 pups were brought in and trained. In 2003, following a decision to expand the squad, 10 more dogs were added to the kennel. The dogs were allotted to be specifically trained in the detection of narcotics, explosives and crime.

“Today the Army, BSFand all police departments have dog squads. The second oldest squad in India is in Meerut and they came to us for training in 1962,” says P. Viswanathan. “Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh followed soon. Coimbatore, Tiruchi, Cuddalore and Vellore also have squads trained here,” he adds. “The Kennel Club of India regularly organises a dog show in Chetpet every year. We have won 138 awards, 38 of them gold medals,” he says. “We always win at the All India Dog Shows.”

He talks about how the dogs are prepared for any situation. “We provide for the security of VIPs and VVIPs and help guard the Raj Bhavan, Secretariat, airport and bus terminus.”

Today, of the 21 dogs atthe station, 14 are trained to track down explosives, six help with crime investigation, and one sniffs out narcotics. “The dog and the handler should have a synergy. We have being training them since they were puppies, so that they get involved with the trainer from an early age and only the trainer feeds the dog his three meals. The trainers treat dogs like they would treat their own children,” says Vishwanathan.