Inside story: Tauranga's finest gives up the chase

By Sandra Conchie

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Tauranga Dog Squad boss and handler Paul Selby is retiring at the end of week. PHOTO/GEORGE NOVAK
Tauranga Dog Squad boss and handler Paul Selby is retiring at the end of week. PHOTO/GEORGE NOVAK

The year was 1975 and policeman Paul Selby was chasing two crooks.

The dog handler was in the Far North and joined in chasing two wanted men. But the pursuit was to be the hardest of his 41-year police career, taking him eight hours over 25 miles of terrain that included thick bush and water.

"The track involved a couple of wanted guys in a motor camp, and the local cop had been keeping an eye on them," he says.

"I got called out from home because they were going to do a runner. Just as I arrived they took off in a car so I joined the chase, and eventually ended up down a long country road with them abandoning the vehicle."

Selby said by the time he and his dog Vance got there the scent was about five minutes old.

"Vance and I tracked them for least five hours through some to the thickest country I have ever been through.

I was just crawling through a lot of it, through creeks and across rivers. In the end I was absolutely exhausted and I had been out of contact for five hours because I didn't have a radio.

I starting walking up to a farm house, and met my offsider who unfortunately was called out because I'd been missing for so long, and so I was able to put him on to the track."

Selby said the other handler helped track the men for another three hours before exhaustion also set in and they spent the night in a hotel, and at first light went out hunting them again.

One dog caught one man but the other crook started swimming out to sea, so the officers jumped into a couple of dinghies and rowed out to get him, but he jumped on to a game fishing boat.

"My colleague Charlie got there first, and the guy was trying to stop him coming aboard, and tried to stab him with a boat hook and Charlie's hand got crunched. I managed to swing my sole oar at him hard enough to put this guy on his backside and we jumped on board and secured him, and we locked them both up."

Will miss the chase

Selby recounted this anecdote in an exclusive Bay of Plenty Times Weekend interview ahead of his retirement yesterday.

After more than four decades on the force, including 39 years in the dog section, the veteran cop says he will probably miss the thrill of the chase and hearing his colleagues talk about "catching crims" the most.

Yesterday the 60-year-old longest-serving dog section officer in the country hung up his harness for the final time.

Tauranga Dog Squad boss and handler Paul Selby is retired after a stellar career. Photo/George Novak
Tauranga Dog Squad boss and handler Paul Selby is retired after a stellar career. Photo/George Novak

Selby does not have to retire but says he considered doing so two to three times previously and finally set the date a year ago. His decision is tinged with sadness, but he says it is time to go.

"I've decided to leave before they force me out," he quips.

Having spent almost 15 years as officer in charge of the Eastern and Western Bay of Plenty dog section, the decision to leave came down to a "combination of things".

"Dog training is a bloody physical job. You're regularly getting hit by dogs, laying long tracks, jumping fences and things like that, and you have to keep yourself physically fit. As you get older your body doesn't allow you to do the things you once were able to. The guys are getting sick of carrying me," he says.

"Yes, I could have looked at doing something different [in the force] but after 39 years in the dog section I really didn't want to go anywhere else. No more New Year's Eves, yahoo."

Milestones and rugby

A humble Selby shares some of the significant milestones in his career which began in 1973 in Wellington as a 19-year-old fresh-faced Dannevirke-born recruit from Napier.

"You didn't get a chance where you were posted in those days. They did ask where I'd like to go, and I told them Napier, so they sent me to Wellington."

Selby says his decision to join the force was sparked by a guy he played rugby with.

"I was storeman and he was applying and he talked me into it. I got in and he missed out. I'd never even given it a thought prior to that," he says.

After Selby moved to Lower Hutt he did two years there, then transferred to Whangarei which is where in 1975 he first became a dog handler - and stayed eight years.

"I fell into the role rather than sought it out as a career path after I was called in to assist a dog handler one night and we got into a bit of a stoush with a local gang up there. We were surrounded by the gang and the handler had his dog out to keep them off us."

Selby says the handler encouraged him to apply as there was a vacancy open and he discussed it with his future wife and the rest is history.

"Actually I had to get married as in those days you couldn't be a dog handler unless you were."

Selby said that was because the police brass viewed married men as being more stable and wanted police dogs to go into a stable family environment, and "fortunately they found me".

"I initially struggled but fortunately I worked with one of the best trainers in the country. He was a perfectionist and failure wasn't in his vocabulary, and he expected everyone else to work to the same standard."

Life in Tauranga

Selby's first stint in Tauranga began in 1983 and after eight years he transferred to Christchurch where he was officer in charge of the dog training and spent eight years there.

He returned to Tauranga at the end of 1999 to take up his now-former post - and never left.

Before being promoted to Sergeant he says he had two working dogs. "My first dog was Vance. He had a tremendous stamina and would keep going and going, we did a lot of fitness training with him in those days too. His tracking was exceptional and we had some good catches from him."

Selby said lots of other handlers have done some amazing tracking as well.

"It's not uncommon for handlers to track more than four hours. But it's pretty hard work. My second dog Saba was another good tracker, but I probably achieved more in dog trials with him."

Becoming a dog handling champion

Selby is a four times national title holder for police dog handling - once with Vance and three times with Saba. He is also an Australasian police dog handling champion.

Ninety per cent of police dogs are specially bred and do initial training at the Police Dog Training Centre in Trentham and most of the balance in their home patches, he says.

Selby says he has worked with at least a dozen dogs of his own during his career and trained countless others and their handlers, including helping hone the skills of the Western Bay's newest recruit Iggy, a dog that joined the squad a month ago. Two-and-half-year-old Iggy is keen to start working, but it's likely to be up to nine months before she does so, he says.

Tauranga Police Dog Squad - From left: Paul Selby, Yoda (dog), and Kane Cording. Dogged determination. Photo/file
Tauranga Police Dog Squad - From left: Paul Selby, Yoda (dog), and Kane Cording. Dogged determination. Photo/file

"Some dogs take longer to mature than others, and Iggy is still a bit young and immature."

When Selby commanded Iggy to be quiet, sit down and stay, she obeys beautifully - almost.

Waving a stick in her direction she reacts but her bark is clearly worse than her bite.

Iggy is working with Senior Constable Kayne Cording, also handler to Yoda.

Cording is one of six dog squad members in the Tauranga/Whakatane area, and Yoda is one of the Western Bay's three current operational police dogs.

Across the country, there are 130 handlers and 20 dog sections and police dogs respond to more than 30,000 incidents each years.

The language between man and dog

Selby says the crime-fighting team of dog and handler is a unique relationship.

"You're a team and you know if you get into trouble they will be there for you and vice-versa."

A highly trained police dog can handle most situations thrown at them, including violent criminals. Selby says the initial $20,000 cost to train a police dog at Trentham pays for itself countless times once the dog starts working. "They can help pre-empt hours and hours, and sometimes weeks of investigative work."

Late last year, Cording and Yoda tracked an offender for at least four hours and the offender was charged with breaking into hundreds of cars.

"This was a guy who wasn't really even on our radar," he says.

Most police dogs average eight years on the job but some have to be put down earlier or shortly after retirement due to injury or illness.

Selby's first two dogs Vance, who worked until he was 10, and Saba until she was 7, had to be put down within a few months of their retirements due to their hindquarters giving out.

His own last dog, 8-year-old Ty, who he had for 18 months, was given to a sergeant in Napier.

"I do really miss him but at the end of the day they don't make great pets. It's far better he's out working than sitting at my place in a dog kennel."

Every police dog lost to the force is gut-wrenching for its handler and felt heavily by the dog section community, he says.

Highly respected

Cording, who has worked with Selby for nine years, says he and other handlers across the country hold him in high regard and his credentials were second to none.

"He's been an awesome boss. He knows us better than anybody else. He knows what we're thinking and what makes us tick. Nothing's too hard for him, and he's spent a lot of time just making sure we can fully concentrate on what we should be doing, that's catching crooks."

Paul Selby. Photo/file
Paul Selby. Photo/file

Cording said every handler who ever worked with or alongside Selby in the Bay of Plenty and numerous others around the country all wanted to attend his send-off yesterday.

Six years ago Selby served in Bougainville for nine months in a peacekeeping role, and received a police commissioner's commendation for doing so.

One of Selby's former charges, local handler Logan Marsh, is his replacement.

"I'm surprised they only employed one," Selby says, grinning.

Selby beams when he talks about why he has loved the job so much, and admits if he had not been a police officer he had no second option in mind.

"Yeah, there have been times when I thought there must be something better out there, but looking back I'm bloody pleased I didn't leave. There is no perfect job but the one we've got would be close to it. It's a damned exciting job, in that you're training a dog to catch people and when you do it's a hell of an achievement.

"There's nothing better than going back to the complainants, somebody who's had their house burgled to tell them we've apprehended the guy, and you just see the relief on their face. It gives you immense satisfaction. Most dog handlers are selected because they love catching crooks. When you do, it feels wonderful, it's quite a buzz.

"When I look a back at my career, I've got to say one of the things that pleases me most is seeing dog handlers I've trained going on to do great things. I still love getting phone calls hearing about all their chases and the catches which is probably something I will miss most of all," he said.

Looking to the future

Next month, Selby and wife Wendy will head overseas on a 10-week trip of a lifetime, taking in London, Scotland, Munich, New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Gallipoli. Wendy's grandfather fought in the Battle of Krithia and received a bravery medal.

About a month after they get back to New Zealand their daughter Melanie is due to have their first grandchild, and next year Selby says he will start thinking about looking for another job.

"Meanwhile, golfing is going to take up quite a bit of my time, hopefully."

Selby's boss, Western Bay area commander Inspector Clifford Paxton, says he cannot speak highly enough about Selby's significant contribution to the police, particularly in this region.

"I want to acknowledge Paul for his efforts and his work ethic over the years. From a personal perspective I have really appreciated his positiveness and his support over the length of his service. He has always worked in a constructive way, and his collegial approach and very positive, supportive approach is very much appreciated by all his colleagues."

Mr Paxton also acknowledged Selby's family for their support.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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