ON OCTOBER 31, there were two unusual additions to the Mumbai Police’s monthly ceremony at the Azad Maidan Police Club for retiring personnel where the commissioner bestows a shawl, a coconut, a memento and a few kind words of farewell.
In the first such privilege, police dogs Heena and Vicky, who finished 10 years as professional detectives, retired with the same honours as accorded to their human counterparts, with shawls draped across their backs by Commissioner Subodh Kumar Jaiswal and coconuts given to their handlers.
More significantly and in a move that acknowledged their careers as crime-fighters, the dogs were rewarded with them being allowed to stay in the kennels they had grown up in instead of being put up for adoption like police dogs before them.
“In the past, when we have given police dogs up for adoption, the persons who adopted them would complain that the dogs were just not used to being with anyone else,” said Sub-Inspector Vinod Ballal, who took over as head of the Mumbai Police Crime Branch’s Dog Squad three months ago.
The squad is located on the ground floor of the police quarters at Crawford market. The roomy office is separated into work areas for Ballal and his team of handlers and living areas at the back for the dogs. While each wall is a tribute to the four-legged police personnel, one wall is dedicated to proudly show off only Heena’s achievements.
The squad’s preference for tracker dogs are Doberman Pinschers, who stand apart from other breeds when it comes to picking out a scent and following it. Like other dogs, Heena, who is now 10, came into the squad’s office as a two-month-old pup in 2008. A month later, she was packed off with her trainer, Head Constable Umesh Sapte (40), for a nine-month training.
“After the dogs return from training, we walk them all over Mumbai for a month to familiarise them with the city,” said Ballal. For a few months after that, new recruits shadow experienced tracker dogs on the field before being thrown into the deep end.
From the beginning, Heena carved out a reputation for tracking down murder suspects — doing so in the packed slum environs of Dharavi in 2013 and earlier this year in Khar, where she proved a vital link in establishing the getaway route taken by a domestic help and her boyfriend who had murdered her employers in a high-rise.
“Dobermans are lighter and quicker than Labradors. That’s why we prefer to take them to the crime scenes that involve a lot of running around,” added Ballal.
Among the many stories that Sapte likes to recount is Heena’s single-handed detection of an early morning break-in at a shop on D N Road a few years ago. “She picked up the scent of the thief from a screwdriver the thief had left behind and tracked him down to a slum behind New Customs House in Ballard Estate. The police managed to recover Rs 12 lakh out of Rs 15 lakh that was stolen.”
The most celebrated of her achievements is the role she played in closing the noose around cable technician Javed Shaikh, who was sentenced to life imprisonment by the sessions court in 2015 for the rape and murder of a minor girl in Nehru Nagar, Kurla East, in 2010.
“The police had preserved a shirt found from the crime scene. When we were called in for assistance four months after the crime took place, Heena sniffed the shirt and led the police to a cable television shop. After that, the investigators began to pick up local cable technicians for questioning,” said Sapte, who was selected to work as a dog handler in 2001.
Of the 568 crimes where the dog squad had provided assistance between 2014 and 2017, the canines have helped trace the direction taken by perpetrators in 403 cases, while in four cases, they have tracked down the home or place of work of the accused. In two cases, they managed to track down the accused.
“Heena has a major contribution in these cases,” said Ballal.
For now, the squad awaits the arrival of two new Dobermans. “Each dog here is your child and the bond you have with them is unique. I have fed and bathed Heena for 10 years. I am glad that she will get to get to stay in her home for as long as she lives,” Sapte said.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines