Retired police dog becomes first animal to join Blind Welfare Association

Hart receives some love from US Ambassador to TT Candace Bond and his former handler PC Sean Bailey.  - Narissa Fraser
Hart receives some love from US Ambassador to TT Candace Bond and his former handler PC Sean Bailey. - Narissa Fraser

RETIRED police dog, butter thief and fetch extraordinaire are some pretty impressive feats for the resume of Hart, the blind Belgian Malinois.

A true example of resilience, he did not let losing his vision – which forced him to leave the police service – prevent him from helping and inspiring others.

He is now the first animal to join the Blind Welfare Association and has taken up his rightful duty as its official spokesdog.

Hart, now seven, was born in Slovakia. He was brought to TT by the US Embassy in 2017, and began training to become a police dog at two. This was the result of a collaboration between the US Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement and the TT police.

Hart shares a smile at the School for Blind Children at Santa Cruz ahead of his induction into the Blind Welfare Association. - Narissa Fraser

Hart specialised in finding illegal drugs, guns and ammunition, and was very good at his job – even when he started going blind.

His former handler, PC Sean Bailey, told Sunday Newsday Hart was always very loving and had a high working drive.

"He didn't want to stop unless you stopped him."

Hart remembers a special call Bailey had for him when they worked together, and still listens to commands like "Sit," and, "Down."

Students of the School for Blind Children pet Hart. - Narissa Fraser

He began going blind in 2021, which vets concluded was because of an issue with his corneas, which was hereditary.

Typically, retired police dogs are adopted by their handlers. But, recognising he would need a lot of extra care, Bailey and Supt Geoffrey Hospedales, former superintendent of the Mounted and Canine Branch, opted to let Newsday columnist and prison-reform advocate Debbie Jacob adopt him.

"Hart has to get eye medication several times a day (and) it would have been impossible for a working canine officer to do that daily," Jacob said.

She has also done a lot of work with the police Canine Branch, as well as the NGO the Wishing for Wings Foundation largely invested in prison reform through education, of which she is the president.

Hart gets some love as his owner Debbie Jacob looks on at the School for Blind Children in Santa Cruz. - Narissa Fraser

She said Hart has "a lot of attitude" and is the boss of the house. She added that he doesn't seem to realise he is retired, as his nose continues working 24/7.

An official induction ceremony for Hart was held at the School for Blind Children in Santa Cruz on Thursday morning.

Both Jacob and Bailey's words were proven true, as Hart was sniffing absolutely everything and everyone at the venue, almost as if he was doing a security sweep.

He also got a chance to play with his favourite ball, which he refused to let go whenever he caught or found it.

He now relies entirely on sound and scent, but remains just as energetic as when he was able to see, which is not surprising for his breed. He loves dog biscuits, meatballs and sardines, and also once stole butter off the counter while Jacob was making a cake.

He doesn't bark at many things, apart from visitors at the front gate, but Jacob said he has a "real high-pitched puppy bark" that makes her laugh.

During her speech at the ceremony, Jacob said her furry companion "demonstrates the challenges and excitement of reinvention.

"He has so much drive and attitude, and he's the most joyful dog I've ever met."

Saying she has had "many rewarding experiences" in life, she said she was especially thrilled to have an opportunity to combine her passion for children's literacy with her love for animals.

While brainstorming with the association on ways Hart's story can help others, they got the idea of an audio diary – A Touch of Hart – detailing his career and transition to being a blind dog.

Students of the School for Blind Children pet Hart. - Narissa Fraser

"Hart had a remarkable career and now he's a spokesdog for the Blind Welfare Association – particularly for children – and he advocates for inclusivity," Jacob said.

She added that Hart is also a "teaching dog" at the Mt Hope Veterinary Hospital, as he is used for veterinary students to learn about blindness in animals.

She and Hart will search for opportunities to equip the association with things it needs, Jacob said, adding that she was seeking donations of special Kindles for blind people to use to read, as well as opportunities to translate Caribbean literature into Braille.

She said Hart showed her that "everything is possible" and there is no longer any room for discouragement in her life.

The association's president Felix Cazoe considers the partnership an opportunity to raise awareness in TT and allow the association to work towards "creating a world that is diverse, equitable and inclusive.

"We will continue to bring exposure and awareness on issues of the life of people who are blind. The transition of Hart from a working canine to an advocate for people who are blind is testament to that."

After the ceremony, the students got a chance to interact with Hart and show him some love. This brought many excited squeals and bright smiles on both sides, and a line to meet him.

US Ambassador Candace Bond thanked all who made Hart's induction possible, adding that it was an inspirational initiative.

He has achieved "numerous finds of guns and drugs in TT's airports, warehouses and homes across the country," she said.

She urged students there never to stop doing what they love owing to any minor setbacks.

"Keep going. Hart didn't stop, doesn't stop and clearly won't stop."

Hart still gets to visit Bailey "every now and then," Jacob said and gets "really excited" by his presence.

Hart turns eight on November 27.


"Retired police dog becomes first animal to join Blind Welfare Association"

More in this section