Region's first female dog handler

By Kristin Edge

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Constable Elyse Lewis and Mist on the run in Northland. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Constable Elyse Lewis and Mist on the run in Northland. Photo / Michael Cunningham

Criminals in Northland are feeling the heat with a new crimefighting duo on the beat.

Constable Elyse Lewis and police dog Mist have hit the beat running and have been tracking hot on the heals of those choosing to flee from the authorities.

Elyse Lewis.
Elyse Lewis.

The combination, based out of Whangarei, started last month and in doing so created a piece of police history with Ms Lewis being the first female dog handler based in the region.

She is only the fifth female dog handler ever in the New Zealand police and one of two currently working on the beat. The other is stationed in Wellington.

After nine months training at the Police Dog Training Centre at Trentham for the rigours and challenges as a police canine combination, the team was part of Dunedin's thin blue line for a month.

Ms Lewis, who spent nine years as a front line officer in Whangarei before chasing her dream of becoming a dog handler, said work for the duo was hard to come by in the southern city.

But while there may not have been many calls for the finely trained nose of Mist, they still notched up some good catches, including a gang member they found hiding in a bush after he allegedly assaulted his partner and fled over three hedges.

But a chance to come home and join the Northland dog unit was hard to resist and the 28-year-old constable reckons there is plenty of work in the North but it wasn't the increased workload the duo found hard to adjust to - it was the heat of summer.

"Mist struggled in the heat at first and it meant plenty of swims in the Hatea River for her, just to cool her off. And making sure she had plenty of water available."

Ms Lewis is trying to get as many jobs as she can to give 1-year-old Mist as much experience as possible.

"It's a challenge and an adrenaline rush. I'm loving the job - it's everything and more I thought it would be," Ms Lewis said.

She said it was rewarding seeing the training being developed in an operational setting.

"I see a switch flick as soon as I put the harness on Mist. She switches into work mode and is real alert and the intensity increases," Ms Lewis said.

"I'm putting my trust into a dog which is something I've had to learn to do. It's pretty amazing what she can do."

While they are building as a team on duty, together they are getting fitter and faster off duty. Ms Lewis said she was spending plenty of time in the gym working on her strength.

Together the duo were running through the Parihaka tracks to get fit.

"In this job you never know where you might end up and you might spend three hours tracking through mountains."

- Northern Advocate

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