Rex is a barker, Bull is a spaz, Milo is focused and Murray is a bit of a goofball.
As one would expect with a gathering of dogs, there was a wide range of canine personalities on display at the Police K9 Challenge last weekend.
Law enforcement from around the region, including Utah and Wyoming, along with their K9 partners, took part in the fun competition at Delta High School.
The K9 competition included obedience, an obstacle course, sniffing for narcotics, speed and bite training.
It was a chance to show off the K9 skills and for handlers to work with the dogs in a different setting.
Most dogs were well trained and focused but some could use a little more work — like Murray.
After cruising through the obstacle course without a lot of problems, Murray couldn’t resist the final test — the distraction of a big pile full of dog toys.
All these dogs love toys, but only Murray decided to snatch one up and take it back with him, as his handler, Jake Doolin from the Routt County Sheriff’s Office, laughed along the way.
It was all in good fun and the spectators loved it.
“I love being a K9 officer. He’s always looking after me and it brings me so much joy and pride working with him,” Trish Worley from the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office said about her K9 partner Bull.
From his breed to what he does, Bull is a unique dog.
The 4-year-old German shorthaired pointer transitioned from a hunting dog to a tracking and marijuana-sniffing dog a while back.
“When our last round of dogs were getting ready to retire right as marijuana was legalized, they weren’t going to get marijuana dogs again,” Worley said. “But being in the school that’s the most effective way to find marijuana in school is with the dogs.”
As a school resource officer at Coal Ridge High School outside Silt, she convinced the sheriff to get another dog trained to detect marijuana.
“Schools, jails and even prisons, we still need a way to find it to keep it from our higher risk population like our kids and inmates,” she said.
Watching Bull’s boundless energy and near continuous bouncing and bounding, it’s clear where he got his name.
BENEFITS OF K9 PARTNERS
Keith Sanders, a sergeant with the Delta County Sheriff’s Office, has been training dogs for 17 years and now has Teg, a 2 1/2-year-old shepherd from Slovakia.
“We butt heads once in a while, he wants to be in charge and I have to tell him “no, I’m in charge,” Sanders said smiling.
“Whether it’s doing a narcotics search and getting dope off the streets or finding a lost child or older person with dementia, things like that, it’s so rewarding.
“These dogs can really bring the community together,” he added.
Doing things like going into schools and hospitals are a big part of the community-minded benefits of a K9 partner, he said.
“These are highly trained animals and they are a very useful tool for the community,” he said.
The bonding between human and animal is the important part.
For Cheryl Yaws, a retired Fruita Police officer, she has been training dogs for 22 years. Her current dog is Talu, the oldest dog at the competition at 11 years old.
“He’s not mellow,” she said with a laugh. “He’s 11 years old but he still acts like a puppy.”
Yaws was an instrumental part of the K9 programs at both Grand Junction and Fruita when she was on duty.
“I did it for 22 years and ran four dogs, two with Grand Junction and two with Fruita,” she said. “That was really the highlight of my career. It was by far the best career choice I could have ever made.”
During her career, she took part in 11 bite apprehension cases to subdue suspects.
“Well, I never bit anyone, but my dogs did,” she said with a wry smile.
She still enjoys taking part in events like the one last weekend and still helps younger dog handlers when she can.
“In addition to going out and finding the bad guys when I was active, the co-mingling with my fellow dog handlers, learning new things and trying to help the newer handlers is all very rewarding,” she said.
One thing is obvious when watching this competition: These dogs love to be praised and rewarded, and they love their toys.
Whether it be a tennis ball or a chew toy, that reward is waiting for them if they do a good job or complete a task.
The dogs’ attentiveness is also obvious, with them constantly looking up at the handler for instruction or praise.
Every handler praises their K9 partners with high-pitched words, and there were countless times a “Good boy!” could be heard.
For Chris Isham from the Gunnison County Police Department, he had zero experience as a K9 handler when he decided that’s what he wanted to do three years ago.
Isham and Beno, a 3-year-old German Shepherd mix, are still working on their bonding.
“There are lots of ups and downs, the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, and I was told that when I first started and that is the case,” he said. “But it’s very rewarding.
“You have to learn their quirks and they have to learn mine, so it’s a challenge. It’s really one of the most challenging things I’ve done as an officer,” he said.
Beno already has an impressive résumé, which includes helping law enforcement seize nearly $70,000 in illegal drugs. He was also able to locate a suicidal individual who was then taken to get the help they needed.
“It’s so rewarding when you see what they are supposed to do, what they are trained to do, and you can take pride in that,” Isham said.
With the high-skill level these dogs demonstrate, it’s easy to forget that they also love attention, love to be petted, and all have unique personalities.
Last weekend was a fun event where those personalities were on full display. But so was that skill and those traits that make them an invaluable part of the law enforcement team.
They are trained to do a job, but they are still dogs and they love their handlers. All the dogs are with their partners nearly 24/7 — on the job and at home.
“They’re good animals and really all they want to do is please you. All the time,” Isham said with a smile.