One of Tasmania's most sought after jobs has been filled.
Launceston born and bred Tasmania Police Constable Gavin Storay is the state's newest Police Dog handler.
It is a job Constable Storay said he had wanted since assuming the role of relief handler in 2016.
PD Fang joined Constable Storay at Tasmania Police in 2017, and the pair had worked on-and-off since then.
The role came about because PD Fang's previous handler, Sergeant Jareth Anderson, received a promotion to Watch Sergeant on the West Coast.
Despite losing his full-time Handler of almost six years, PD Fang remained in good hands.
Fifty-two-year-old Constable Storay had been a police officer for 22 years, filling various roles in Launceston and at country stations.
He said it had been mainly frontline work including general duties at Launceston watch, uniform country stations and traffic policing. But all of those roles had filled the void before the chance to be a full-time handler came up.
"I've always been a dog lover, and I've always had dogs," Constable Storay said.
"Becoming a dog handler full-time is what I've been striving for since I did the [handler] course in 2016."
Becoming a dog handler full-time is what I've been striving for since I did the [handler] course in 2016.Constable Gavin Storay
The role of police dog handler comes with a minimum seven year tenure, which is the working life of a police dog, but Constable Storay said the long-term commitment did nothing to change his mind about taking the opportunity.
The reason for the minimum tenure is because consistency and connection between a police dog and their handler is important.
And that connection is known to be one borne through mutual respect, and built through an ongoing association.
While Constable Storay and PD Fang had to maintain a professional relationship that meant Fang was not able to sleep on the bed when the pair headed home after work, there was still time for sentiment between the two.
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For PD Fang's fifth birthday on October 30 last year Constable Storay baked him a dog cake with dog biscuits, dog treats and dog chocolate. So learning his new handler would be Constable Storay would no doubt be an early birthday present for the hard-working black Labrador.
Tasmania Police Inspector Tony Kay is the officer in charge of emergency and risk management at Special Response and Counter Terrorism Command in Hobart. Part of his role is managing the six dog handlers across Tasmania.
He said Constable Storay filling the role vacated by Sergeant Anderson made perfect sense.
The consistency of handling is key for the dog. Not so much the bond, but the consistency.Inspector Tony Kay
"Constable Storay has been relief dog handler in Launceston for about eight years and in that time he's developed a pretty well established relationship with Fang."
Inspector Kay said the importance of that consistency was easily observed when watching how dogs and their handlers interact.
He said the six dogs around Tasmania were so in-touch with their handlers they began to mimic their actions.
"Among the six handlers you've got very different personalities and you can see that reflected in the behaviour of the dogs. We have some people who can't sit still, and neither can their dog, and vice-versa as well," Inspector Kay said.
What's in store for the crime-fighting team
While in a relief role with PD Fang, Constable Storay estimated he had spent two-and-a-half of the past four years with his colleague.
He said in that time they had completed a number of jobs and been part in seizing significant quantities of drugs.
Part of the role of a police dog team involves shacking up at post offices and courier services and making sure nobody is trying to sneak in drugs.
It also involves spending plenty of time at the Launceston Airport with the same intentions.
PD Fang had been responsible for sniffing out 12 ounces of methylamphetamine and an ounce of cocaine during a routine search at the Star Track Parcel Centre at St Leonards, and he also thwarted a woman with four ounces of drugs at the airport.
The police dog was also part of a significant raid on a Longford property carried out as part of the Launceston firearms taskforce earlier this year, and helped sniff out tens of thousands of dollars of methylamphetamine at Hadspen in August last year.
And Constable Storay and PD Fang were part of another raid and bust at Launceston in March 2020.
"I've done a lot of the major drug operations over the last few years because when I relieve it's normally three to six months at a time," Constable Storay said.
"We got to be involved in a few at the Spirit, at the Launceston Airport where we've got people coming through the gateway with drugs, we've been involved in operations down south.
"And we've been involved with Border Force and Federal Police, so we've had quite a bit of a relationship with all of the agencies."
Though Constable Storay and PD Fang earn their crust by helping apprehend and charge criminals, another part of their role was public relations.
When the pair are not busting down doors or intercepting drug traffickers, they make their way to schools and other community events.
Constable Storay said PD Fang was the ultimate community and public relations sidekick, regularly attracting a crown or even defusing frosty situations.
"Everybody loves dogs, so everywhere he goes he gets a lot of attention. People are a lot more relaxed when you've got a police dog around," he said.
The im-paw-tance of police dogs
Inspector Kay said the position of police dog handler was one that always brought out keen applicants whenever it was advertised.
And not just because the officer in charge gets to have a dog as their colleague every day, but because of the autonomy the role offered.
"There's a specially set up car that transports the dog, or can transport two dogs when they're babysitting someone else's dog for whatever reason, but Fang lives at Constable Storay's home," he said.
Inspector Kay said a police dog cost about $15,000, but the most significant cost came from the car needed to transport the dog, and the handler in charge of them.
But it was a worthwhile investment. Alongside dog teams regularly making significant drug busts, others are trained to sniff out firearms and explosives.
Inspector Kay said because the dogs are so highly trained, it was possible to train them to track people or sniff out dead bodies.
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