Farewell Comrade Sheba

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The tracker dog that traced criminals in over 100 cases solving many recent crimes died recently – by Malaka Rodrigo

Kotakethana in Kahawatte could probably be considered the most mysterious crime scene in Sri Lanka -– the place where a number of innocent women have lost their lives. When the second double murder took place, the village reeled in shock and fear and investigators were hard pressed to find evidence as the criminals had burnt down the house where the crime occurred.

The Ratnapura police had one last trump card. They called in Sheba – their top tracker dog. Police investigators found the window where the criminals had forcefully entered the house and although it was burnt down, Sheba managed to pick up a scent. Vigorously sniffing the ground ignoring the villagers and policemen gathered at the scene, the dog started following the scent. Sheba’s handler, Police Constable Samantha Wanasuriya followed. A kilometre away Sheba entered a house and began barking. That was a breakthrough in the Kotakethana murders. The suspects were arrested.

A proud handler with Sheba

The Kahawatte investigations made Sheba famous. Sheba’s caretaker – PC Wanasuriya said Sheba had busted more than 100 cases successfully helping the police to trace criminals and follow up crucial leads.

In 2011, a family of four – father, mother, daughter and son were killed in Uda Walawe. The killers had been careful to enter the house removing their slippers, but had forgotten to wear it when they left. Sheba sniffed the dirty slippers and followed their scent to a spot near the road where they had parked the three-wheeler they came in. A SIM card of a phone had been dropped there and in it were photos and other contact details that led the Police to the suspects. The credit for unearthing the most valuable piece of evidence was Sheba’s.

In Nivithigala, a girl living with her grandmother was kidnapped. The kidnapper managed to take her some distance, but as she struggled, he let her go and ran off. But he had left his torch behind and that was all Sheba needed to trace him.

These were only three of the many cases Sheba helped in. But last week, after a brief illness, Sheba passed away. It was a great loss to the Police especially, Sheba’s handler PC Wanasundara.

A female German Shepherd, Sheba was born in 2004. PC Wanasundara became Sheba’s caretaker in 2008 and continued her training under the guidance of Police Kennel Headquarters. Sheba was considered an active member of the Police and was given the number 800.

“Sheba was very obedient and would follow any orders we gave,” PC Warnasuriya said, describing her as a gentle dog who would not usually get angry. But whenever the Police wanted to control a crowd, a simple order would have her barking furiously.

Sheba had a special enclosure at the Ratnapura Police Station. Her daily routine began with her morning exercise and training sessions. Another play session would follow around 3.30 in the evening with her meals being given around 4.30 p.m.

Director of the Police Kennel unit, Superintendent Sisira Weerakoon said Sheba was an outstanding tracker dog. “Selecting a dog for Police duties is done carefully. We conduct several tests and check on the dog’s pedigree. To select 100 dogs, I had to check 286 dogs,” he said. Sheba had showed her colours even as a pup. He said all the Police Dogs are given the same training, but their individual abilities and skills make some more successful like Sheba.

Superintendent Weerakoon pointed out that Sheba’s technique of sniffing too could assist her to trace human scent more accurately. Most of the dogs sniff the air but some dogs stick their noses to the ground and trace through “ground scent”. These “ground scenting” sniffers like Sheba are more successful said the expert on Police Dogs.
The Director of Police Kennels also praised handler PC Warnasuriya pointing out that dog and handler work as a team and his ability to direct Sheba helped solve a large number of cases.

Last week the Ratnapura Police said farewell to their trusted comrade. Sheba’s body wrapped in white cloth was placed in a coffin specially made for her and carried to the grave on the shoulders of the policemen. PC Warnasuriya bade a sad farewell to his best friend with a police salute-“Good-bye Comrade Sheba!.

Published in SundayTimes on 24.02.2013  http://www.sundaytimes.lk/130224/plus/farewell-comrade-sheba-34150.html

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