Story and photo by Ann Patton
Academy Spirit staff
Some of the country’s top noses competed this week as the Academy and the El Paso County’s Sheriff’s Office played host to the second of two events in the U.S. Police Canine Association’s annual national field trials Wednesday.
Forty-one canines and their handlers were put through their paces at Stillman Field and Coronado High School, in part for competition and for certification as detection canines by the USPCA.
In a razor-thin point range, the Academy’s Staff Sgt. Timothy Bailey and military working dog Kelly, a Dutch shepherd, both with the 10th Security Forces Squadron, finished third in the building search and fifth overall in competition as the top drug dog.
The pair also teamed up with El Paso County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Sean Hartley and his canine to represent region 14 of the USPCA in the team competition. The four placed second overall in team competition.
“Kelly is a good dog and has a huge hunt drive,” Sergeant Bailey said of the detection/patrol dog he nicknamed ‘Mama.’ “She responds, and she’s always on it.”
He added Kelly has a stellar reputation for never showing a “false,” or mistaken alert, with no scent aids present.
Handlers and canines were allowed 15 minutes to detect two scented aids obscured in five vehicles, provided by Heuberger Motors of Colorado Springs. Most finished well under that time. At Coronado, teams were required to detect two scented aids hidden in three classrooms in 15 minutes.
Sergeant Bailey and Kelly finished in three minutes flat.
The event also included social get-togethers, an awards banquet and a public demonstration in Falcon Stadium.
Canines and handlers came from all over the country for the trials, from Washington, D.C. all the way to California. The trials involved various canine breeds, including Belgian Malanois, German shepherd, golden retriever, Labrador retriever and springer spaniel.
The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized the USPCA as a certifying agency for law enforcement detection canines, whose handlers may be called to testify in court concerning incidents involving dog and handler.
Chief canine trials judge Ray Reinhart said canine detectors are trained to discover explosives, and a variety of illegal drugs. Dogs are also now being trained to forecast human seizures, some cancers and even detect faint traces of peanuts for owners with life-threatening allergies.
Canines alert handlers to the presence of substances by both passive and aggressive displays. During a passive alert, a dog may simply sit next to the location of a substance, and during an aggressive alert, the dog may claw at the detected area. Understandably, dogs trained for explosives only use passive alerts.
Mr. Reinhart said the partnership of canine and handler is a team effort.
“They have to make a marriage and make the marriage work,” he said.
The bonds between handler and dog go deeper than just working together.
“Dogs are like family,” Mr. Reinhart said. “Handlers spend more time with their dog than their family.”
Many law enforcement canines make their homes with their handlers.
Mr. Reinhart, a retired Washington, D.C. police officer and a retired Secret Service officer, said one of his dogs saved his life twice during dangerous operations.
“I couldn’t imagine not having him with me,” Deputy Sheriff Mark Slovik said of his dog Pary, a German shepherd he has worked with for five years.