Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Police dogs could get TV time at competition



By Jane Prendergast
Enquirer staff writer

[photo]
Members of the Cincinnati Police Department Canine Unit, along with canine units from Norwood and Loveland, run through a group obedience drill at their training center in Evendale.
The Enquirer/GARY LANDERS
You might see Cincinnati's police dog team on Animal Planet after all.

Five Cincinnati dogs and their handlers leave Thursday for the U.S. Police Canine Association field trials in Huntsville, Ala. It's the same national competition the Cincinnati team won last year.

When the city didn't agree on a contract quickly enough for producers to film here, it seemed the Cincinnati team might be left out. But the film crew will be at the trials, where Cincinnati hopes to shine again.

The team of four Cincinnati handlers and an alternate has practiced with its 4-year-old German shepherds for weeks. The dogs have to do things such as heel with their shoulders perfectly aligned with their handlers' pant seams, jump over obstacles that simulate fences and walk up a ladder, which simulates a fire escape. They lose points if they sit crooked or return to heel too slowly.

The team will test for its re-certification at the event, too. The U.S. Department of Justice now wants the unit to be recertified every year, twice as often as Ohio standards require.

The competition means a lot more, though.

"This isn't all just window-dressing," said Sgt. Dan Hils, canine unit supervisor. "This means we have the best dogs working out on the street, too."

Justice Department monitors were brought in to review the entire police department in the wake of the 2001 riots. But the handlers and their supervisors were surprised at the intense scrutiny directed at the dog unit.

Of the 87 suspects found this year by the dogs through the end of September, 10 were bitten.

Among Justice's policy changes: Dogs can no longer be let loose in schools to look for burglars, as they can in other buildings, unless there's an obvious sign of a break-in in progress.

Cincinnati's policy allows the dogs to be used only to look for suspects in violent misdemeanors and serious felonies. They also can be used to search for guns and clothing.

In Alabama, Cincinnati's team will compete against at least 150 other dogs, said Russ Hess, executive director of the canine association.

The association this week signed a six-year contract with the production company working on the Animal Planet show. That gives them permission to film at the trials.

Norwood and Loveland also are sending officers to the trials.

The dogs live with the officers at their homes. But the officers are trained to view the dogs as expendable, as life-savers for them.

Still, the dogs become pets. Officer Scott Duncan has to be careful stepping out of the shower because Gunthner always lies on the tub mat.

Tony White's dog, Dakota, knows his car number. When the dispatcher calls for "8108," Dakota starts to whine. He knows the call means a chance to get out of the cruiser and look for a suspect.

The teams should learn its scores by Nov. 12.

Also, Officer John Neal, with dog Maximus, is nominated for an award for finding two carjacking suspects in Avondale last month.

E-mail jprendergast@enquirer.com




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