They say that dogs are man’s best friend, yet some dogs are far more than just cute companions. In addition to being unconditionally loyal and loving, some dogs are born with an incredible instinct to protect and serve.
In the mid-90s, a Canadian police officer on the canine unit was partnered with a German Shepherd puppy, who turned out to be one of the most dedicated and skilled police dogs the department had ever seen. After years spent saving lives and even playing a part in history, the officer was devastated to see his beloved partner pass away. Thanks to a group of scientists, however, the legendary dog’s legacy lives on.
K-9 In Training
In 1995, a German Shepherd puppy was sent to Canada from the Czech Republic. For the first 14 months of his life, the puppy underwent rigorous training to prepare him for a life fighting crime as a police dog. After completing his training, the puppy was assigned to work on the canine unit of the Halifax Regional Police.
An Instant Bond
Once Trakr arrived in Halifax, he was assigned to handler James Symington. Symington had worked as an officer for the Halifax Regional Police for years and was one of the founders of the department’s canine unit. From the moment the pair met, they had an instant connection.
6 Years on the Force
Trakr and Symington worked tirelessly together to find missing people, arrest criminals, and search for illegal items like drugs and weapons. The pair worked together on the Halifax Regional Police canine unit for six years. Throughout those years, Trakr proved to be an incredible asset to the force.
An Impressive Record
During those six years, Trakr managed to find over $1 million in contraband. He was also credited for finding more than 100 people and helped arrest hundreds of criminals. However, Trackr was prematurely retired from the canine unit in May 2001.
The retirement was forced in retaliation against Symington after he stopped the department from implementing a policy to have all police canines euthanized after they retire. According to Symington, the department, where he had worked for 13 years, had become hostile towards him after blocking the policy.
Taking a Break
Without Trakr by his side and with the issues with his colleagues at work, Symington decided he needed to take a break. So shortly after Trakr’s retirement, Symington took a medical leave from the force. His official reason for the medical leave was for an ongoing elbow issue. But the truth was that the hostile work environment was causing him too much stress.
A Defining Moment
At that point, Symington thought his days working alongside Trakr were over. But then Symington turned on the news on September 11, 2001. He watched footage of planes crashing into the World Trade Center and the towers collapsing shortly after. Then he saw brave men, women, and rescue dogs coming together in the search and rescue operation.
Had to Help
At that moment, Symington knew he and Trakr had to help. Symington immediately started packing up his car with his and Trakr’s gear. As soon as everything they needed to get to work was in the car, Symington started driving straight to New York City. Symington drove straight from Prospect Bay, Nova Scotia, to Manhattan.
Suiting Up Once More
Since the roads were nearly empty the entire way, Symington made it to New York in just over 14 hours. He and Trakr arrived in the early hours of September 12 and got to work looking for survivors at Ground Zero as soon as they could. Sometime after 6 a.m., Trakr found a sign of life amid the chaos and destruction.
A Live Hit
Firefighters dug in the spot where Trakr was indicating he had found a “live hit,” or a sign of life. Under a mountain of debris, firefighters discovered Genelle Guzman. Guzman had been trapped there for about 26 hours but made it out alive thanks to Trakr.
The Last Survivor
Guzman had been working on the 64th floor of the South Tower when it was hit. She managed to make it down to the 13th floor before it fell, and while she survived the collapse, she was buried under the toxic debris. Guzman was one of just five people found alive that day and the very last survivor of the attacks.
The Search Continues
For Symington and Trakr, however, the work wasn’t finished. Like most other first responders, they refused to stop working because they believed there might be other survivors trapped in the debris. Over the following days, the pair refused to give up.
However, by the 14th, both Symington and Trakr were absolutely exhausted. That day, Trakr collapsed from chemical and smoke inhalation, burns, and exhaustion. He was treated and the next day, he was released and Symington drove him back to Canada.
While they were in New York, officials from the Halifax police saw the pair helping in the search and rescue efforts on the news. Since Symington was supposed to be on leave and had participated in rescue efforts without permission, they suspended him from the force. Eventually, Symington decided to leave the force for good and moved from Canada to California with his wife and Trakr.
While in Los Angeles, Symington started noticing Trakr was having trouble walking. According to Symington, Trakr became paralyzed in his hind legs as a result of neurological problems that were likely caused by inhaling toxic smoke at Ground Zero. At times, Trakr used a wheeled harness to get around on his own, but Symington and his wife often carried him around. “For us, it was an honor,” Symington told ABC News.
In April 2009, Trakr died at 16 years old. However, before he got sick and passed away, Symington could tell his beloved companion didn’t have much time left so he had Trakr’s DNA taken. At that point, cloning wasn’t even possible yet but Symington knew how special Trakr was. Symington wanted to be prepared in case there ever was a day where you could clone a dog.
So when Symington was watching the news one day in 2008 and heard that BioArts, a company that clones dogs, cats, and endangered species, was searching for the most “cloneworthy” dog and was going to make a free clone for the winner of their essay contest, he knew he had to apply. In his entry, Symington explained the incredible things that Trakr had accomplished in his lifetime of service. “Once in a lifetime,” Symington wrote in his essay, “a dog comes along that not only captures the hearts of all he touches but also plays a pivotal role in history.”
A Clear Winner
According to Lou Hawthorne, the founder of the cloning company, they received more than 200 essays but Trakr was the obvious winner. “Trakr was just so far beyond any of them,” Hawthorne told ABC News. “He was a clear winner.” When Symington found out that Trakr had been chosen to be cloned, he was thrilled. “My hopes are that it could be a version of Trakr. Not that I think you could ever replace Trakr, because I know you can’t.”
Trakr’s Legacy Continues
Trakr’s clone, Trustt, was born shortly after Trakr passed away. Originally, the contest was only for a single clone, but when everyone saw how successful Trustt had been, they decided to make four more clones of Trakr, who Symington named Solace, Valor, Prodigy and Deja Vu. “They’re calm,” Symington told ABC News. “They’re very zen.”
Following Trakr’s Footsteps
“Every single one of them has the same markings,” said Symington, who started training the dogs in 2011 to become search and rescue dogs. “If he shows even 70 percent of what Trackr had as far as skills, intuition, and courage – then without question I’m going to dust off my search-and-rescue gear and we’ll go back to work,” Symington told The Globe and Mail after Trustt’s birth.