To The Max

Record Breaking Essex Police Dog Retires

Story by Ryan Percy
Photography courtesy of the OPP

It is not often someone gets to retire knowing that, not only they were a great employee, but a good boy too.

Maximus is a 9-year-old German Shepherd and Belgian Malinois mix. But while he might look like just another adorable family dog, if the numbers are one thing to go off of, he is potentially the greatest canine police officer the OPP has ever had.

Alongside his trainer and partner, Sgt. Milan Matovski, the two became a solid unit that were pivotal in hundreds of cases over the past 7 years.

Maximus takes part in an agility course designed to teach canine officers to move through tight spaces.

While one might just assume Maximus was born a super dog, with breeders pointing to the crossbreeding having strong work ethic and drive, Sgt. Matovski says natural talent was not everything.

“What brought him to that was the amount of work that we’ve done,” Sgt. Matovski says of how Maximus was trained. “Every single day we were doing practice tracks (hiding an object with someone’s scent) and training tracks. I had my kids set tracks as well as my wife, members of the public and coworkers. If it was just the same person’s tracks he’d get used to finding that one person.”

The training paid off.

During their joint career, Maximus had 204 locates and Sgt. Milan Matovski said that while the vast majority of them had been Maximus locating criminals, there were around 25 which served a more search and rescue role.

“In the OPP we have dogs for search and rescue that are non-aggressive,” Sgt. Matovski says of how locating a missing person usually is done. “Maximus was used to search because of the urgency. He is aggression trained but he never bit anyone that wasn’t justified.”

Maximus and Sgt. Matovski enjoy some quality bonding time.

With such a long career of locates there was never a dull day for Maximus and Sgt. Matovski, though there were some moments that stood out more than others.

“Maximus helped locate a two-year-old who was missing overnight in a cornfield,” Sgt. Matovski said of one of the times that really stood out to him during his career with Maximus. “The kid was lost in a rural area where there were threats like coyotes and whatever else. I think the cornfield
protected him from the elements, but he definitely would have died had Max and I not found him. It was rewarding to find him and reunite him with his family.”

But with all the good stories there were also bad ones. While Maximus served as a canine police officer, and in the course of the line of duty, he had taken his fair share of bumps and bruises, but sometimes it became a bit more serious.

According to Sgt. Matovski, when a canine officer is used to locate drugs, the area is cleared and then the canine is sent to look through the area. If they find something they will indicate to their handler, but while doing a search warrant in Leamington in 2020, it did not go as planned.

“He located cocaine, it wasn’t in a bag, it was loose, and it was collocated with some fentanyl powder,” Sgt. Matovski says of the search. “He ingested it through his nose and at the time I just thought it was cocaine. Dogs have a higher tolerance for drugs than humans, so I didn’t think it was as big a deal. I was monitoring him and you could tell he had laboured breathing and was laying on his side. I knew it wasn’t cocaine because, if it was, he’d be doing the opposite.”

Sgt. Matovski gave Maximus a shot of naloxone in an attempt to save his canine partner’s life. He rushed Maximus to Erie Veterinary Hospital where they washed any residual drugs off the dog’s fur and eventually administered a second naloxone shot. 

Maximus survived.

Maximus is trained to clear flights of stairs for threats prior to officers advance.

Every year of a dog’s life is roughly the equivalent to four or five years for a human. This means Maximus’s outstanding 7-year career was the equivalent of 28 to 35 years of service had he been a human officer instead of a canine one.

If you could imagine working a three-decade long career that put you at the top of your field, it would be a noteworthy place to finally retire.

But going from a police dog to retiring into a regular family dog is something that also takes planning and consideration.

“With dogs like Maximus that are trained to track and trained for aggression, the only person that can adopt them is their handler or another handler from the OPP,” Sgt. Matovski says. “So when he retired I was happy to adopt him. He’s integrated well with my family; he’s walking around and just being a normal dog.”

Sgt. Matovski is no longer a member of the canine unit, instead he has moved on to being a patrol sergeant. While this was a promotion, the timing of the decision was spurred on by Maximus retiring.

“Ninety per cent of Max retiring was the reason I left the unit,” Sgt. Matovski says of leaving the canine unit behind, “I had an opportunity to compete for a promotion two years ago. I turned it down. I didn’t compete then because Max wasn’t ready to retire. He would have gotten reteamed with another handler and I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to adopt him when he retired. I wanted to be with him until the end of his career.”

Sgt. Matovski had spent nearly a decade with Maximus, a bond forming that only that kind of relationship can make.

Now that he’s retired, Maximus enjoys some quality time at the beach. Photo by Simona Matovski.

“It’s almost like he’s my child,” Sgt. Matovski says with a smile. “You develop a bond like you would with your own kid, because we were never apart. Our day started with me taking him out of the kennel. He’d go to work with me, he spent the entire day with me and he’d come home and spend the entire night.”

The pair’s bond found its hardest moment the day after Maximus retired, when that separation first hit.

“That entire first day without him was emotional,” Sgt. Matovski says. “We had a call while I was on patrol that needed a dog and that’s when it hit me like a wave. My dogs retired and I’ve got a different role now.”

Maximus was the same, pacing around the house waiting for Sgt. Matovski, his handler turned dad, to get back.

But when Sgt. Matovski comes home, that companionship and bond is as strong as ever.

There is something so powerful about that bond. A man and his dog.

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