By Pete Zamplas
Area law enforcement can better train police dogs in simulated situations such as leaping through a window, now that a new K9 training facility has opened in Hendersonville thanks to North Henderson carpentry volunteering and funding from Stand T.A.L.L.
The K9 Agility Training Park is in a fenced-in field nearly an acre in size, right behind the Henderson County Jail. The general complex at First Avenue and North Grove Street includes the Sheriff’s headquarters, and courthouse. The facility will be a K9 training center for several area units, Sheriff Lowell Griffin noted. He said he does not anticipate charging other law enforcement units, as part of “mutual cooperation” and assistance on various fronts such as SWAT teams and exchanging use of undercover drug agents.
Previously, K9 training was done in phases at various sites in the area. The new one-acre site handles various agility challenges, and has room for other training needed for certification, officials said.
Stand T.A.L.L. (Thank A Local Lawman) donated more than $5,000 in “in-kind building materials and cash contributions” to develop the park, the group’s Founder-Pres. Ron Kauffman said. He credits “very generous donors” and NHHS’ volunteer labor for enabling “this unique K9 training facility.”
Kauffman reasons “the NHHS carpentry class probably saved several hundred dollars on construction costs.” A bonus is it “provided a great, meaningful project for them.”
The field was already fenced in, but Kauffman noted “it needed to be cleaned up, to be safe for the K9s.” He said the facility was overdue. “They had no permanent structure or area dedicated or designed to be used for the specific types of training these amazing, multi-purpose K-9s and their handlers need and wanted.”
Stand T.A.L.L. Board V.P. Sharon Hanson initiated the project. She asked Henderson Co. Sheriff’s Detective Robert Pace how to best assist the K9 corps. Pace, a K9 handler, suggested the agility park.
In addition, Stand T.A.L.L. three weeks ago donated $10,000 for purchase and training of a multi-purpose police canine. The Henderson County-based pro-law enforcement group fills funding voids, and has paid for lightweight bulletproof vests for local police dogs. Since dogs are quicker than officers to get to a suspect, they are prone to getting shot at first.
Sheriff Lowell Griffin said, “We appreciate the tremendous and ongoing support. Stand T.A.L.L. is tremendous. This new facility and the new K-9 will be a lasting tribute to their hard work and support.” Major Frank Stout, the second in command, calls the non-profit group’s efforts “incredible.”
NHHS teacher Keith Deese’s eight carpentry students built six wooden obstacles in the K-9 Agility Training Park, over a half-semester. Deese said a seventh obstacle should be ready in coming weeks, and it will have steps on it. His class is at the middle of three carpentry levels. Current students are seniors and juniors.
They were honored Sept. 26 at the training facility’s official grand opening.
Also, police dogs and their officer trainers demonstrated training on these obstacles to develop K9 agility, such as leaping over walls and through windows. They also showed the dogs’ attack aptitude. Lt. Kevin Holden led the demo. He supervises the sheriff’s K9 unit.
Sheriff Griffin said, “We’re happy and proud to show some of the capabilities of our dogs when they are in the field, and how this new facility will be utilized to maintain and enhance their future training.”
Each obstacle/training station simulates a real-life situation. For instance, a window sill six feet up has the height of a car door window.
The narrow balance beam is daunting to dogs, and takes longest of the obstacles for them to adjust to, Lt. Holden explained. It took Ranger two months to get the knack of it. “He doesn’t understand there are no sides. To him, this is an abyss.” A key is to “convince the dogs they’re actually safe on this. If they’ll actually trust us.”
K9s serve many purposes. Two bloodhound puppies joined the K9 corps, to track suspects but also missing people after sniffing scent from the person’s clothes. K9s can sniff for illegal narcotics. Three weeks ago, K9s helped a home search (via a warrant) resulting in a Henderson Count Drug Task Force drug bust. Seized were 1.4 pounds of meth, and two grams of heroin. Meth trafficking is among charges in this case.
Deputy Corey Smith said a year ago, his Belgian Malinois K9 Gitmo looked around and found a handgun a suspect had thrown out a window.
Lt. Holden said when he stopped a Caucasian man’s vehicle, he K9 “saw a (.45 caliber) gun on the floor.” He said the suspect acted “ready to fight,” and resisted arrest until after the K9 smashed him into submission.
Police dogs are trained to detect weapons, explosives and other unusual objects. One exercise is for the dog to check the field for what does not belong, grasp it in jaws, and to retrieve it to its handler. They can get through tight spaces, in a pursuit or search. They are trained to get used to loud noises such as shouting or gunshots, and to stay focused in searches, Holden noted.
They are strong, fierce and fearless enough to risk their lives to help disarm and neutralize an aggressive suspect.
Lt. Holden took the brunt of the grand opening demo’s main event — bites from a dog’s trained attack, as he portrayed an assailant. He said he felt a “strong pinch” despite wearing heavy pads, as a K9 sinks teeth deep and holds on until commanded to let go. Holden said he lessens the bite angle and penetration — and thus his discomfort — by moving away and twisting his arm.
The aim of sicking a K9 on a violent suspect is not to wound him/her, but induce the suspect to “give up” rather than feel continued pain, Lt. Holden said.
The jaw-grasping apprehension skill of K9s gives renewed meaning to the motto of “Take a Bite Out of Crime.” That emerged in 1980 with McGruff the Crime Dog, an animated bloodhound mascot for National Crime Prevention Month and safety tips.
The K9 breeds in Henderson County’s unit are mostly German shepherds or Belgian Malinois. Several are of Czech or other European origin, initially trained in non-English languages. Their local handlers use brisk, one-word commands in such languages as German. Hand signals also make it difficult for a perpetrator to know what is about to happen to him.
Signals instruct the dog what to do — or cease doing. One stunt demonstrated was the sudden start and stop capability of local K9s and thus their discipline, obedience, and reliability as a safe sidekick.
For more on Stand T.A.L.L or to make a tax-deductible donation, call (828) 393-0900 or check www.thankacop.org