The sight of a black Lab sniffing wildly and rocketing along the baggage belts at Pearson International Airport was a familiar one. After all, Jagger, the Detection Dog loved loved loved the game of Find-The-Currency-And-Win-A-Treat.
An airport baggage area is not the sort of place where you’d expect a young dog to be able to maintain his focus. It’s usually crammed with people—many of them eating and dropping irresistible, distracting crumbs. Human- and machine-made noises echo back and forth. The lighting is overly bright – but Jagger’s focus would not waver. He’d be on a mission – one involving food. Jagger could maintain his focus until he “hit” on one particular item: a suitcase, backpack, fanny pack. The eureka moment for a Detection Dog. He’d sit abruptly, signalling his partner, Ian Falzone, that he’d found currency. A treat was due. And offered by Ian. Then Jagger would do his Labrador Retriever Thing – gulp the treat in a single bite. Travellers would crowd around wanting to pat the clever dog, but Ian usually had to delay that – there’d be an arrest to make.
Jagger and Ian had learned to watch each other’s movements closely, to listen to each other constantly. At first, it was a matter of training because Jagger was a wiggly, high energy 11 ½ month old dog when he arrived in Toronto from Calgary to start work at the airport. They were a new team and needed to understand each other. Trust each other. Over years of working and living together, however, this interspecies communication became their habit. And all those exposures and experiences partnering with Ian in the baggage area prepared Jagger for what would be his next job – working as a therapy dog for Therapeutic Paws of Canada (TPOC). But much would happen before that.
Over the next 10 years, the teamwork of Jagger and Ian resulted in several high value arrests, netting the government about $2.4 million in penalties and fines. [see Joe O’Connor’s column at http://nationalpost.com/news/canada/i-owed-it-to-jagger-retired-crime-fighting-dog-battles-bone-cancer-while-vet-bills-mount]. With successes like these, Jagger soon became a Media Darling and requests for public appearances poured in. Together, Jagger and Ian took part in more than 150 demonstrations where they would be mobbed by as many as 200 kids at a time. Once again, these experiences would prove to be invaluable in shaping Jagger for his future work as a pet therapist.
Jagger’s Next Job
In April 2017, at the age of 11 years, Jagger was retired from his duties as a Detector. Ian knew that Jagger couldn’t simply lay about the house after having been so busy for so many years – but what could a retired Detector Dog possibly do? A happy, friendly dog who no longer wriggled with excitement… a boy who loved people, and had been exposed to multiple cue situations in noisy, bright settings…
The answer seemed obvious: Jagger could become a therapy dog. But Ian was nervous. Would Jagger make the cut? Part of the TPOC evaluation exam involved taking food offered by a volunteer. What if he tried to snatch and scarf down food as had been his habit for so many years? Well, there was only one way to know: Jagger had to be evaluated.
In the evaluation, Jagger interacted with the humans and other dogs amiably. He wasn’t frightened of volunteers in wheelchairs or wearing goofy hats. He even left the cookies set temptingly on a plate on the floor untouched on command. But then came the moment of truth: accepting a treat offered by a volunteer. Ian held his breath as Jagger snatched and gulped the offered morsel. Well. Due to his otherwise stellar performance, Jagger was permitted to progress to the next stage of evaluation – three monitored visits to a facility – but on the condition that Ian be the one to offer any treats to Jagger. Deal!
Jagger was easily certified as a Therapy Dog and assigned to work on the Palliative Care floor at Lakeridge Oshawa Hospital. There, he quickly switched gears and understood his new role as a pet therapist. And he loved loved loved it. Jagger would pull Ian through the hospital doors, anxious to get to work. As soon as they were in Palliative Care, the two long time partners once again relied on each other, using the same communication methods that had made them such a highly successful detection team. When they approached a patient in the unit, Jagger would look to Ian for guidance, seeming to ask, “Is it okay to sniff?” Ian’s response: “Go say Hi!” Then Jagger would move close to the person in the chair, walker, bed. Ian adjusted his body language and signals, guiding Jagger to gently snuggle close to the person. And Jagger the Detection-now-Therapy Dog, turned out to be a great snuggler. Apart from that, it was just a matter of Ian instructing his ever ravenous partner to “Leave it” when they encountered muffins on tables or tidbits on the floor.
Soon after being certified as an adult Therapy Dog Team, Jagger and Ian were certified to work with children. Once again experiences from their previous years of working together were quickly adapted for use in a children’s therapy setting. After having given so many demonstrations in schools, where children rushed to hug Jagger afterward, he was well prepared for being mobbed by a group of child volunteers in the evaluation. It was as though all those years of detection work were actually just preparation for Jagger to become a top notch, versatile therapy dog.
A Dark Day
On August 18, 2017, four months after Jagger’s retirement from the airport, the two were preparing to attend Warriors’ Day at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto. Ian saw something in Jagger’s mouth. His heart stopped. It was a tumour. And it turned out to be a bad one.
What followed was surgery where 2 ½ inches were removed from Jagger’s jaw – still, the veterinary surgeons were not able to remove the margins of the tumour. He would require chemotherapy. While Jagger healed from the surgery and waited to begin chemo, he returned to his work at the hospital, in Palliative Care as well as on the Psychiatry Floor. On Thanksgiving, Ian took Jagger to the hospital to visit on the Psychiatric Floor. There, a young woman whose arms were striped with self-inflicted cuts, sat on the floor patting Jagger, telling him that he’d made her happy today. For his part, Jagger nuzzled the woman in his non-judgmental way, doing exactly what was needed and loved loved loved it.
Jagger had done it again – put his great heart into his work and become a Star.
October 16, 2017
Jagger left This Life today. You can read the tender and poignant chronicle of Jagger’s Cancer Journey written by Ian on the GoFundMe account that was set up to help Ian pay for Jagger’s treatment.
The link is at https://www.gofundme.com/jaggers-medical-care?viewupdates=1&rcid=r01-150820356227-557ff56ede80486b&utm_source=internal&utm_medium=email&utm_content=cta_button&utm_campaign=upd_n