A veteran police dog handler and his toy poodle — a rather unusual breed for a police dog — have been busy lately, not only at crime scenes or searching for missing persons, but also with community outreach.

The message from handler Hirofusa Suzuki to parents: Don’t give up on your children’s dreams or limit their career choices based on preconceived notions or prejudice. There should be many ways for them to live their lives by maximizing their talent and potential — just like he never gave up on his toy poodle, Anzu.

At a lecture last month in Ibaraki Prefecture, Suzuki said he hopes people learn from the success story of his once abandoned pooch now excelling as a police dog.

“Instead of thinking in stereotypes, like small dogs should live their lives as pets, we ought to help maximize their potential,” Suzuki said. “If (dogs) become aware of their own potential, it is important for us to prepare an environment where they can blossom.”

This lecture was organized as part of the Hitachinaka Municipal Government’s family education classes, targeting parents of local elementary school students. This notion of not stereotyping, Suzuki said, also applies to people.

The 4-year-old Anzu has been working with big dogs on police activities, developing her abilities since Suzuki adopted her when she was 3 months old.

Anzu was saved by Suzuki when she was about to be put down. Her owner had abandoned her after failing to house-train her, and because she barked at night.

The dog appeared to have been abused because she was really frightened of people, especially women, Suzuki said, noting her healing process started with building a trusting relationship with his family, including other dogs.

Suzuki, 66, lives with Anzu and some German shepherds, also police dogs, in the village of Tokai. He has been involved in training police dogs for about 30 years.

While he was training the other dogs to track footprints, Anzu showed an interest in the exercise.

Anzu also honed her sense of smell; she began digging up the ground and sniffing around by watching and learning the behavior of the German shepherds, Suzuki said.

“She began behaving as if she were a German shepherd,” he said. “So probably, it is more like my dogs, rather than myself, who made Anzu into a police dog.”

The same could be said for parenting, he said.

“What I would like to underscore is (the importance of) environment. It is probably the same for your children, too. There are many ways (for them) to live their lives,” Suzuki said, arguing that like dogs, children benefit from a variety of stimuli.

During a trial program by the Ibaraki Prefectural Police to expand the scope of police dog recruitment to all breeds, Anzu passed the test on her first try and was commissioned as a police dog in January 2016.

There are two kinds of police dogs in Japan — those that are kept and trained by police, and those that are managed by civilians.

The latter are called commissioned police dogs and are ready to be dispatched to crime scenes when needed. The Ibaraki Prefectural Force relies exclusively on civilian-owned dogs, according to Suzuki and the police website.

Anzu was mobilized last year for around 10 cases, including searches for missing persons and finding evidence at crime scenes.

Since fewer households keep big dogs these days, the trend of employing small and medium-size canines as police dogs will increase, Suzuki said, noting a division of labor based on size and breed characteristics can be effective in investigations.

Small dogs’ advantages include being good at finding small objects large dogs tend to overlook, investigating in public spaces without drawing attention and fitting into narrow spaces.

Anzu has been making her presence felt in searches for evidence and missing persons by playing on her strengths and characteristics, according to Suzuki.

Mari Takebayashi, a mother of a fifth-grader who attended the lecture, said she found “something common” with caring for and training dogs and raising and educating children.

She said she learned about “finding hidden talents in young people” and trying not to be judgmental about the strengths and weaknesses of her own child.

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