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Two men who escaped from a Vancouver Island minimum-security prison were caught after talking to an off-duty Mountie about his dog, police say.

James Lee Busch, 42, and Zachary Armitage 30, escaped from William Head Institution in Metchosin Sunday evening, spurring a wide-scale search.

They weren't seen for two days until off-duty RCMP officer John Ferguson spotted them in the area of West Bay in Esquimalt at around 8 p.m. Tuesday.

Ferguson was walking his Great Dane, Lewis, when he said the men commented on the dog's size.

"Two young fellas were walking towards us. The one said 'Oh, what a big dog,' the other one said, 'Yeah, great-looking dog.'"

When Ferguson turned to talk to the men, he said he immediately recognized them as the escaped prisoners from a bulletin issued by West Shore RCMP.

"Lewis and I went for an extra-long walk to follow them," he said, adding that Busch and Armitage appeared to be unusually relaxed.

"They seemed really relaxed, the way they were talking to Lewis, it seemed they were out for a leisurely walk."

Ferguson, an RCMP homicide detective, alerted on-duty Victoria police officers who then made the arrest. 

RCMP Sgt. John Ferguson explains how his dog Lewis inadvertently led to the arrest of two escaped prisoners in Esquimalt, B.C. Read more: https://t.co/JfR0g2mgTY pic.twitter.com/c8K85D58sy

— CTV News (@CTVNews) July 10, 2019

The prisoners have since been turned over to West Shore RCMP and were expected to appear in court Wednesday.

Concerns over minimum-security prison

The two had a violent criminal past, with Armitage serving time for robbery and aggravated assault and Busch serving a sentence for second-degree murder.

West Shore RCMP spokeswoman Const. Nancy Saggar credited the off-duty officer and Victoria police, saying a multi-jurisdictional effort helped nab the escaped convicts.

"He's not from our particular detachment…so having this information out there, sending it out to our other detachments, our fellow agencies, everybody's on board and knows what these two look like," she said. "We're very happy that these two are back in custody and everybody can sleep a bit easier."

Every single detachment on Vancouver Island and in the province was notified about the escaped prisoners as well as ports, BC Ferries and Canada Border Services Agency.

Questions remain as to whether the pair should have ever been housed at a minimum-security prison like William Head, which only has an eight-foot fence that surrounds the perimeter.

The facility is the first of its kind in Canada, and is modelled on a residential area. It features five different neighborhoods and expects inmates to live with little monitoring.

Before the escapees were caught, Metchosin Mayor John Ranns said he'd like to see more security added if William Head continues to house criminals with violent pasts.

"It appears now that the type of prisoner that's there should be in a medium-security prison," he told CTV News Tuesday.

Correctoinal Service Canada (CSC) confirmed the security level of the two inmates would be reviewed and their risk to public safety reassessed.

"They were not returned to William Head Institution but have been transported to a facility with a higher level of security," a CSC spokesman said.

Busch, 42, is serving an indeterminate sentence for second-degree murder and assault. He is also serving time for aggravated sexual assault, escape from lawful custody and other offences.

Busch pleaded guilty in July 2010 to killing a Saskatoon woman over a $20 piece of crack cocaine and throwing her body in a dumpster.

Armitage, 30, is serving a nearly 14-year sentence for robbery, aggravated assault and other offences.

Both men now face additional charges of being unlawfully at large.

Lewis, the five-year-old, 145-pound Great Dane, was made an honourary member of West Shore RCMP for his help in capturing the criminals. 

Lewis sporting his new badge after becoming an honorary member of the West Shore RCMP pic.twitter.com/Jr606S9r7Z

— Sarah Reid (@CTVNewsSarah) July 10, 2019