Imagine a bond between partners so strong that they will do anything for each other.
Now imagine that one is furry and four-legged.
This is the kind of relationship between Durham Regional Police Detective Constable Corby Wright and his dog Hemmi.
“It’s hard to explain. We have a bond. He will basically do anything for me. He could even sacrifice his life for me,” says Wright. “I need him just as much as he needs me.”
Wright has been working for the Durham Regional Police Service (DRPS) for 18 years.
He started in patrol and worked his way through criminal investigation and homicide, but says he always wanted to be part of the DRPS Canine Unit (K-9).
“From day one when I first got hired, it was something I was always interested in. I was always fascinated with how dogs worked and what their abilities were,” says Wright.
His canine companion, Hemmi is a nine-year-old German shepherd trained in firearms and explosives detection. While the DRPS dog training program usually takes 65 working days, Hemmi finished in 51 days.
Wright jokes that the best part of having Hemmi as a partner is that he never whines.
“I have a partner who wants to work all the time and never complains,” says Wright with a laugh. “He doesn’t usually talk back.”
In 2015, Wright won K-9 Handler of the year award from DRPS.
“I don’t see myself as different than any other guy in my unit so it was a nice honour but I’m just doing what eight other guys do,” says Wright. “Every guy deserves that award in one way or another.”
Wright says that although he is no longer on patrol, the canine unit is still on the front lines of policing.
“I contribute to the police services in a different way than patrol guys in some aspects but we’re still considered front lines. I’ll do any call. I’ll do what front line guys do. It doesn’t bother me. That’s what we do. We support each other,” says Wright.
Wright often gets called in to find missing persons. These people are often suicidal or have Alzheimer’s. He says that one of the best feelings is when these people are found safe and are reunited with family.
One case sticks out in Wright’s mind. There was an 80-year-old woman who had Alzheimer’s. She lived surrounded by more than 200 acres of property in the Durham Region and had no neighbours nearby.
One night, her husband woke up to find her missing. They had few leads. They searched the property and had no luck. It wasn’t until they were walking along the road that Hemmi picked up on something.
“You have to trust your dog. Where your dog goes, where he tells you, if he gives you a positive indication, negative indication. You have to really trust your dog,” says Wright.
They found the woman after a 20-minute search. She was found about one-and-a-half kilometres away from her home.
“That was a good one. There was a good chance that we saved her life that night,” says Wright. “We would have never gotten to that spot of Hemmi hadn’t tracked her.”
Wright also says one of the best parts of his job is when they catch criminals.
“It’s not as rewarding as finding people, but it’s pretty rewarding to catch people and can actually make somebody answer for what they’ve done. And it’s also a little bit of relief for the victim.”
Wright says there are things he’d like to see more more police presence in Durham.
“I know it’s probably a cliché, but we really do need more guys out on the roads. It impacts the whole community because we can’t police like we should be,” says Wright.
He would also like to see more youth involvement in the community.
“They’re next. They’re going to be the ones running the communities,” says Wright. “They’re going to be the next coaches, the next businesspeople and more.”
The DRPS canine unit set an example through its own community initiative – an annual calendar that features the unit’s dogs. The money goes to various charities including Alzheimer Society Durham, Autism Ontario and The Animal Guardian Society (TAGS).
According to Wright, they raised about $38,000 last year.
“We’re here to help. We’re not looking for a pat on the back,” says Wright.