Not many people can say they have named an RCMP service dog. Even fewer can say that they have met the animal that they named.
Alexandra Andrist, a Grade 4 student at Sacred Heart School/Ecole Sacre Coeur in Estevan, has done both.
Earlier this year, it was announced that Alexandra's submission of the name Gainer was one of the top 10 entries in the RCMP's nation-wide dog-naming contest. Students between the ages of five and 16 were invited to submit a name through the contest, and there was just one stipulation: the name had to start with the letter “G.”
Alexandra was saluted for her winning entry at a school assembly on June 20. Sergeant Grant Hignell, who heads up the RCMP's police service dog program for Saskatchewan, along with Meadow Lake RCMP Constable Paul Carey, were on hand to applaud Alexandra.
Carey is Gainer's trainer, and he brought the black purebred German shepherd pup to Estevan. It was a surprise for Andrist and her fellow students, and quite a treat, too. Her peers cheered wildly when Gainer entered the school's gymnasium, and they were delighted to meet and pet the pup.
Hignell said it is rare for a young person to meet a pup that they name, but Carey and Gainer were available to make the long drive from Meadow Lake to the Energy City.
"The pups are sent across the country, so a puppy could end up – that's named by a local student – in British Columbia or Newfoundland or anywhere," said Hignell. "It depends on the openings and the timing."
Hignell and Carey also brought an array of prizes for Alexandra: a letter of thanks and a certificate for naming the dog, a picture of Gainer from when he was about eight weeks old, a stuffed puppy, an RCMP baseball cap and some other merchandise.
Alexandra came up with the name as a tribute to Saskatchewan Roughriders mascot Gainer the Gopher. And Hignall loved the suggestion.
"It probably didn't hurt that when I was there (at the selection committee meeting) … I said 'You have to pick that one (Gainer),'" said Hignell.
When Gainer was written on the list for potential names, Hignell went as far as to draw a little gopher next to the name.
Hignell said the naming program was born a few years ago because the force was having trouble finding enough names for their pups. About 100 to 120 dogs are born through the RCMP service dog breeding program each year.
"Every year, the RCMP need a whole bunch of dogs, to help us do our job," said Hignall. "And to have enough dogs to fill our needs, we have to have a whole bunch of puppies being born."
More than 4,500 students submitted names this year. Between 200 and 300 names that begin with “G” were received. More than 10 names will be used for the puppies, but only 10 names can be recognized.
Puppy Gainer is doing well, Carey said. He comes from a good line, as his parents were both good police dogs. And Gainer should grow to a good size.
"He has lots of energy," said Carey. "He's not afraid of anything, and he'll go out and check anything."
Carey was asked to join the police dog program four years ago, and has been hooked ever since his first training session.
"The dogs are amazing to work with," said Carey. "If you talk to anybody who's ever been in this section, they say it's the best section in all of policing."