June 12, 2014 6:38 pm

Former K9 handler speaks on the bond between officer and canine

TORONTO – Sgt. Kathy Vellend-Taylor and her dog Eli are enjoying a sunny morning walk on a beautiful June day.

Eli retired from the Toronto Police service after nearly six years of service. The 11-year-old German Sheppard has a bulging disk in his back, which forced him to retire from the canine unit.

The injury was the result of a car crash in July 2008 involving Vellend-Taylor and her two four-legged partners.

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The canine unit officer and her dogs Eli and Cypress were heading to a shooting, with lights and sirens on, when her SUV was struck at an intersection near Victoria Park Avenue and Lynvalley Crescent.

READ MORE: Moncton police dog Danny to continue service after death of officer

The SUV was launched into the air and rolled over three times, says Vellend-Taylor, before it came to rest on a minivan. Sgt. Vellend-Taylor, a 28 year veteran, managed to escape, but her dogs were trapped.

“The moment we stopped, all I could hear was Eli screaming,” she said.

Sgt. Vellend-Taylor says it took 40 painstaking minutes to get Eli out. Firefighters had to extricate the dog using the jaws of life.

Cypress, a three year old yellow labrador retriever was also trapped.

“I stood on the van’s hood to check on Cy, I looked in to see if my dog was really dead and there he was, his tail was touching his nose,” she said.

At first, Vellend-Taylor believes she had escaped without injuries, but soon began experiencing vertigo.

The head injuries she suffered meant she was on and off work for about two years after the accident. Both dogs also suffered post traumatic stress.

READ MORE: Fallen Mountie’s K9 partner cries next to casket at funeral

“Every time I turned the siren on, Eli would hunker down in the back and he would look absolutely petrified,” she said.

Cypress, a search and rescue dog who worked with firefighters, had developed a fear of firefighters, who helped lift the dog out of the mangled wreckage of the SUV.

“I’d have to go to fire halls and get them to put on their heavy jackets and try to get him used to them again, because he worked with these guys.”

Cypress passed away from an illness three years ago.

Sgt. Vellend-Taylor keeps his ashes in a box with his collar wrapped around it. She also displays his police badge, which he used to wear to community events.

Eli is now one of many family pets. He enjoys daily walks in the neighbourhood and now that he’s retired doesn’t have to sleep in a cage or crate. He now gets to sleep by Vellend-Taylor’s bed.

When Eli retired, she realized her time in the canine unit was also up. “It’s time to turn the torch over to someone else,” she explained in her decision to leave the unit.

Vellend-Taylor later explains she has the distinction of being Canada’s first female dog handler and proudly displays an article that was written about her in Flare Magazine back in 1993.

Vellend-Taylor now has a new assignment. Three weeks ago she began working with the mounted unit, where her daily tasks involve holding the reins of a horse, rather than the leash of a dog.

© Shaw Media, 2014

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