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Public gets sample of K-9's in action

A Public Canine Demonstration, held at the Stewart Mills baseball field on Mill Avenue in Brainerd, kicks off the United States Police Canine Association (USPCA) Region 12 annual Canine Field Trials. View a Photo Slideshow from this event: / 3
Layla Fussy pets police dog Zeus from Elk River Sunday after a K-9 public demonstration was held Sunday at Stewart C. Mills Sr. Field in Brainerd. (Kelly Humphrey, Brainerd Dispatch)3 / 3

Attacking a suspect to tracking drugs in a vehicle, officers and their K-9 police dogs showed Brainerd lakes area residents Sunday a sample of what they can do to help law enforcement.

The Public Canine Demonstration, held at the Stewart Mills baseball field on Mill Avenue in Brainerd, kicked off the United States Police Canine Association (USPCA) Region 12 annual Canine Field Trials that will be held Monday and Tuesday in Baxter.

Around 80 K-9 squads left the Arrowwood Lodge in Baxter and paraded through Baxter and Brainerd to the baseball field. The public demo consisted of numerous K-9 activities along with a Crow Wing County Tactical Response Team demonstration.

The Baxter Police Department is hosting the trials. It is the department's first time hosting the trials on its own. The Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office hosted the trials in 1994 in Brainerd and Baxter police and the sheriff's office held them jointly in 2004.

Baxter K-9 officer Matt Maier said he and his police dog Gator are the only K-9 team in the county. Brainerd Police Department retired their dog Buddy in December and the county no longer has a K-9 officer team.

"The kids really enjoy seeing the K-9 demos," said Maier. "These animals are amazing. These demonstrations give the public an idea on how K-9 teams are utilized.

"They locate people and things, things that officers can't."

Maier said K-9 teams are growing in the U.S. Maier said K-9's are effective and can track a suspect in the woods in the dark much easier and it also puts the officer's safety first.

Maier said K-9s can be trained as young as 12-18 months-old. He said Gator, who is now seven, was 17-months-old when he got him. Officers rigorously train with the K-9 for 10-12 weeks.

Once the dog goes through the first part of training, "Every day after that is a training day, from morning to night," said Maier. Maier said police dogs on average can work eight to nine years before they have to retire.

Maier said Gator came from a good, working bloodline. Gator's grandfather is Nike, a K-9 who retired from the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office.

"Gator loves these trials," said Maier and he has the trophies to prove it.

Maier and Gator took 10th place at nationals in 2013 as overall winners and second place in agility. They took eighth place in nationals for narcotic detection and third place for overall in the Region 12 trials held earlier this year. Region 12 holds two trials a year. The first one focuses on narcotic detection.

Maier competed the 2014 K-9 Certification trials, which is needed to maintain the integrity of the dog and the handler in a court of law.

The trials are a compilation of events in which police canine teams demonstrate their ability to work effectively and safely as a team. At the trials, canine teams from Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota and Manitoba, Canada, will enter to receive their certifications.

Each year an agency from within the region hosts the trials. The trial events are free and open to the general public.

Monday trials will be held at the following:

• Obedience trial at Southdale Park soccer fields in Baxter.

• Agility trial at Oscar Kristofferson Park in Baxter.

• Suspect search at Forestview Middle School in Baxter

Tuesday's trials will be held at the following:

• Apprehension at Southdale Park in Baxter

• Apprehension with gunfire at Forestview. Police report that they use gun blanks and the public will hear occasional gunfire.

Handlers and their dogs will be judged up to 700 points during the trials. They must earn at least 560 points to be certified, said Maier.

"Some officers come here just to get certified," said Maier. "Others come for the competition. If you have a good dog, you want it to do its best."

National trophies are given as well as first- through third- place awards to handlers and their K-9s in the areas of obedience, agility, suspect search, apprehension and overall winner.

Maier said hosting the trials does not cost the city anything. He said the USPCA members seek donations to help pay for the event, such as paying for the judges, lodging and meals and updating the K-9 equipment.

There will be 20 judges and about 20 volunteers hosting the trials that will run from about 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

View a Photo Slideshow from this event: