By: Danette Dooley
The bond between Cpl. Mike Pilgrim and the now retried service dog Luke is as close as family.
It has been said that, until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened. Listening to the passion pour from his heart as he talks about his police service dog, Luke, it’s obvious just how much Cpl. Mike Pilgrim has come to love his four-legged partner.
It’s also evident how much the two will miss each other once their bond is broken. Perhaps the deep feelings these partners share is linked to the fact Luke was a dog nobody wanted – a stray rescued from the streets by the City of St. John’s Humane Services.
Sgt. Don Bill, an RCMP dog handler at the time, saw potential in Luke. Bill knew what he was looking for in a dog. Luke didn’t disappoint. The dog completed the 11-week Narcotic Detection Dog Training program in just three weeks.
Pilgrim and Luke have been policing together since 2012. Pilgrim describes Luke as much more than a partner.
“Luke is my best friend. You live with him 24-7. It’s a different type of bond. If you’re having a bad day, he looks at you and it’s like he’s saying ‘Come sit with me, Dad, I’ll make it better,’” Pilgrim said during an interview the day before Luke’s retirement party.
When he met with the media following Luke’s retirement party, Pilgrim referred to the day as “bittersweet.”
“We’ve done everything together from looking for drugs to walks to sleep-outs,” he said. When asked about Luke’s personality, Pilgrim said, he’s loveable, energetic and easy-going.
Luke is trained to sniff out numerous drugs – from cannabis to cocaine; mushrooms to meth; hashish to heroin – as well as ecstasy.
The dog has “an awesome nose,” Pilgrim said. During his nine years on the job, Luke has sniffed out over $5 million in drugs and cash.
Pilgrim spoke about how, on one case alone, Luke was responsible for the seizure of 1.3 million dollars in cash (drug money). His partner sniffed out 70 lbs. of marijuana and several kilos of cocaine during one traffic stop, Pilgrim said.
“The drugs were packaged in three layers of Ziploc baggies with Vaseline in between each layer, and cayenne pepper… the dog still hit on it from walking around the car. The suitcase was in the trunk.”
Luke is retiring because of the new legislation surrounding the legalization of marijuana. The dog’s retirement party on July 13 at RCMP headquarters in St. John’s was well attended. RCMP Asst. Commissioner Peter Clark, who is the Commanding Officer of RCMP NL, St. John’s Councillor Jamie Korab and St. John’s Humane Services manager Cindy McGrath spoke at the get-together.
Dozens of officers and civilian staff were also on hand for birthday cake and to see Luke’s presents of toys and treats. McGrath said Luke’s story is proof stray dogs can do great things.
“When people are looking at animals in the shelter they think that they’re broken in some way… that there’s something wrong with them. But actually what happens is that they have had a human relationship that has failed them, for whatever reason, and this is a prime example,” McGrath said.
A New Loving Home
While Luke has been living with Pilgrim and his family for the last six years, the bond between this officer and his four-legged partner will soon be severed.
Pilgrim will be moving to a colder climate while Luke will remain in the St. John’s area with a new family.
That’s what’s best for the dog, Pilgrim said. Luke has already had a sleep-over with his potential adoptive family, Pilgrim said. The family loved the dog as much as Luke took to them, he said.
“I don’t want (Luke) to be up there in the cold. It’s time for him to relax and have fun. I want him to be loved and walked… it’s hard to let him go. I’m pretty emotional about it. But it’s in Luke’s best interest to have a loving home down here (St. John’s area).”