Four bomb squad canines, who have saved countless lives in their busy career of sniffing out explosives, found a safe haven post retirement after years of faithful service.
On June 8, 2015, Caesar, Max, Tiger and Sultan – all aged between 11 and 12 – said goodbye to the Goregaon and LT Marg kennels they called home and sat in a police van for one last ride to animal lover Fizzah Shah’s farm in Virar.
Shah adopted the four – a first for bomb squad dogs – following months of meticulous paperwork and site visits by the Mumbai Police. Flanked by their handlers, they received a hero’s welcome at Fizza Farms, where Shah and her staff welcomed them with marigold garlands. Their handlers removed their collars and bid them farewell.
Speaking to Mumbai Protector, Sub- Inspector John Gaikwad of the Dog Squad Protection Branch said “They are not on duty anymore. They are now free. We do not want them to wear a collar or a leash as they will think they are still on the job.”
The four dogs have been part of each major investigation of bomb blasts since 2004. This includes the 26/11 terror attacks, the 2006 serial blasts as well as the blast at Zaveri Bazaar. During 26/11, Max recovered 8 kg of RDX on both sides of the Taj. “The RDX was placed right where there would be maximum casualty. Had Caesar not found it, countless more people could have died,” said handler Santosh Bhogale. Caesar found many hand grenades located in different parts of VT, as did Tiger and Sultan.
All four came to their handlers as two-month-old puppies. “It is the same as taking care of a baby. The love they give you cannot be measured. I will miss playing cricket with them during my spare time. All of them were our fielders,” said Sultan’s handler, Sujit Ghorpade. Shah, who had a lot of running around to do, added she was glad that the Mumbai Police was so thorough in their background check.
The canines’ new homes were recently freshly earthed, with a mesh to separate them from other rescued strays and abandoned pets. They were provided their own cubicles, a shed as well as a thatched shelter.
KC Taut teared up as he watched his dog Tiger explore his new home. “I did not want to give him away. He has been so brave. I am so used to seeing him at the kennel every day. Whenever I have some spare time for my duty, I would quickly give him a pat. I am still nervous. But this place has a certain calmness that Tiger now needs.” Before leaving, the handlers handed over the dogs’ vaccination reports, water bowls, blankets and packets of mutton to Shah. “We know they are in safe hands. When we came to see the farm, we felt it would be a haven for them. Madam has been very cooperative,” said Gaikwad, as the four dogs munched on chicken and rice.
Max – the police sniffer dog who played a major role in the 26/11 operations saved many lives when he detected 8kgs of RDX outside Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. The white Labrador had retired from the Mumbai Police in 2015.
Max passed away due to an ailment on April 6, 2016. While most police officers were busy with IPL duty, his caretaker Fizzaz Shah and former handler Subhash Gawde bid farewell to him. Max was born on Oct 28, 2004. The little puppy was bought by the Mumbai’s Bomb Detection and Disposal Squad. He was later sent to a training centre in Pune and inducted into the squad in 2005.
One of the heroes of 26/11 terror attack was Sultan. Along with three other labradors — Max, Caesar and Tiger, Sultan helped the Bomb Detection and Dispoal Squad detect RDX and other explosives in the city during the 2008 terror attack. Sultan, the 11 year old sniffer dog who helped with the investigations, was sent to the farm post retirement, in May 2015. He died of a kidney ailment in June 18, 2016. “We wrapped Sultan’s body in the national flag and buried him near the pit where Max was cremated,” said Fizzah Shah.
“Ever since Max died, his three colleagues were restless,” said Shah. “Sultan was an obedient soldier and easy to handle just like the other retired police dogs. His favourite pastime was to play ball with staffers at the farm,” said Shah, adding he was a foodie, with a special love for chicken rice and dog biscuits. “We will miss him dearly,” said Shah.
Sujit Ghorpade, Sultan’s caretaker in the police force, was devastated when he heard the news. Ghorpade had taken care of Sultan since he was two months old. No one from the police force, including Sunil, were able to attend Sultan’s funeral as they were on Ramzan duty.
Tiger, a black Labrador, was part of the Bomb Detection Dog Squad from Goregaon who helped the police detect bombs during the 26/11 attack. After his retirement, Tiger was also sent to the Fizzah Farms in Virar, along with his other buddies – Max, Sultan and Caesar.
Fizzah Shah said the dog was on regular treatment for lung infection but its condition worsened where it eventually passed away on July 23. Shah also recalled that after Tiger’s childhood buddy and colleague Sultan passed away in the farm, he became very lonely.
Completing the elite Sniffer Dog of the Bomb Detection and Disposal Squad of Mumbai Police who saved lives during the 26/11 attack is Caesar, an 11-year-old Labrador. He too was sent to Fizzah Farms after retirement. Caesar and his buddies enjoyed the open space at the farm but sadly, they passed away one after the other – Max in April 2016, Sultan on June 18 and Tiger on July 23.
Tiger’s death was a tough one on Caesar. He went into depression. His health deteriorated. He developed high temperature and had to be rushed to the Bombay Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BSPCA) on October 11. He was kept under observation but eventually passed away on October 13. The news was devastating to Mumbai Police as they had lost one of their brave, alert and efficient police dog. They took to Twitter to announce the news of his demise.
Fizzah Shah had been taking care of five police dogs — Goldie, Sultan, Tiger, Max and Caesar since 2015. Goldie who was the first one to leave her friends in December 2015, was sent to Shah’s Virar farmhouse by the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF)’s Bomb Detection and Disposal Squad (BDDS), while brothers Tiger and Sultan retired from the Goregaon Unit, Max and Ceasar retired from the Ballard Pier Bomb Detection Squad.
In a fitting tribute Fizzah said, “It was the most beautiful experience of my life to have had our brave soldiers in my farm. I am indeed grateful and fortunate.”
– by Nitesh Poojari