"It's the best job in the cops, don't stuff it up."
Those are the words Senior Constable David Cole often tells new officers who join the elite NSW Police Force Dog Unit.
Of the 15,633 officers across the state, only 75 of them are dog handlers.
The fact it's so exclusive is not lost on the Albion Park cop who invited the Illawarra Mercury to meet his dog Munsta - a two-year-old rottweiler - as he revealed what a day in the life of the dog unit is like.
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He used the word "lucky" more than 10 times during the interview and you can tell the humble, quietly-spoken police officer means it.
He joined the Force in 1998 and after three years of general duties in Wollongong, and was "lucky enough" to get into the dog squad in 2002.
That is where he excelled. He not only saved lives and helped catch the bad guys and girls, he also trained Australia's first blood detection dog in 2014.
That dog Sylvia, was a black Labrador, and she could detect amounts of blood as small as 0.2 of a millilitre that were up to six months old.
The dogs can detect the blood of a live or dead person in buildings, vehicles and outdoor environments, including areas exposed to the weather.
The then NSW Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione, praised the team's ability to be able to swiftly locate missing people, injured victims of crime, and also track offenders.
The following year, in 2015, Cole said he was "lucky enough" to be awarded NSW Police Officer for the Year, for his work training blood detection dogs.
Cole's dog these days, Munsta, is a general purpose dog trained to track human odour.
"All of us give off a unique human scent that is being left behind by the person, in the environment," he said. "We're using a dog to track that odour in various environments, across residential areas, across streets."
Munsta can track missing people, offenders who have fled and, if need be, he'll protect Cole and other police officers.
There's nothing more rewarding than training police dogs, he said, and he's constantly impressed by how clever they are.
"There's been some good jobs where forensic analysis of rooms hasn't yielded anything, but the dog will come along and give you some information that blood has been there. That helps out a homicide squad," he said.
"To the naked human eye and human techniques there's nothing there, but the dog can give you evidence that there is."
Cole believes dogs have far more capabilities than what they're currently used for.
"I always say 'if our dogs could drive, I'd be out of the job'," he laughs.
There's been some good jobs where forensic analysis of rooms hasn't yielded anything, but the dog will come along and give you some information that blood has been there. That helps out a homicide squad.- Senior Constable David Cole
One of his previous dogs, a Belgian Malinois called Dravec, was awarded the Service Dog Hero Award in 2019 after he and the dog found two lost people in Budderoo National Park near Kangaroo Valley.
The Instagrammers had gone chasing the perfect photo and become lost in the bush.
Last week, he and Munsta were deployed to Mount Keira after a man threatened self harm. They found him before it was too late.
Part of the family
Like all other police dogs, Munsta lives at the home of his handler and is part of Cole's family.
He'll go on trips to the park with Cole and his kids, aged 11 and 12, and when it comes to him retiring - usually around eight years old - the officer usually adopts the dog.
'A consummate professional'
Cole may have resisted 'ringing his own bell' during the interview, but his boss Chief Inspector Craig James, who sat in on the interview, did it for him.
"Dave is a consummate professional. Dave's standard set a very high bar for other handlers to follow in our unit," he said.
"He's a very humble man and he'll play himself down, but his dogs are a credit to him. It raises the standard of our unit and probably thus the reputation that we have across Australasia has a lot to do with this man."
The praise was met with an awkward smile from Cole.
NSW Police Dog and Mounted Command
There's 105 dogs in the command, which includes 45 general purpose, 30 for detection (drugs, firearms, explosives and human remains) and 30 are in training.
General purpose police dogs are usually German shepherds, Belgian malinois and rottweilers, while detection dogs are Labradors or springer spaniels.
It takes around 16 weeks to train a general purpose dog, but training continues for the lifetime of the dog.
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