Thu, May 23

Local police K-9 training proposed

Cottonwood police this week test-drove their new "Bite Suit," the thick, highly protective outerwear used for training a K-9 police dog to stop a perpetrator.

Paul David, of Yavapai Broadcasting, volunteered Tuesday as a target for Vendo, the 8-year-old Belgian Malinois who is assigned to Officer Ron Ekholm. As David attempted to run at Herridge Field, Vendo locked on David's arm and he was knocked to the ground by the powerful dog.

The Yavapai County Community Foundation (YCCF) granted $14,000 to the Cottonwood Police Department for the special gear and more training for Vendo and Ekholm. Law enforcement canines are among the priorities for the Foundation. The Foundation now wants to help underwrite development of a program to train dog handlers in Northern Arizona. Dog handler training has long taken officers to Phoenix or California.

In November, Ron Ekholm and Vendo will return to Adlerhorst International K-9 School at Riverside, Calif., to learn how to become a certified trainer for dog handlers.

Ninety percent of dogs in the field are trained to find narcotics, but Ekholm says the animals can be trained for anything, "they could find Twinkies." Dogs are frequently used on local traffic stops and on the interstate to check for drugs. The animals can give an officer probable cause for a search, even if the driver does not consent.

Specialized dogs are used to detect bombs. Cadaver dogs were used to find bodies in the debris after the 911 attacks and after earthquakes in Pakistan.

But they cannot have the same training. While a narcotic dog may want to play after he has alerted on a stash, "you wouldn't want a bomb dog to play... they are trained to sit still and point."

Vendo was originally trained in the Netherlands, where dog training is a popular hobby and so many of the commands the dog understands are in Dutch. Since being assigned to Ekholm, though, he has learned English commands as well.

The dog and man train every week to reinforce their bond.

Cottonwood Police have two canines, Yavapai County has two, a dog has recently been purchased for Clarkdale but is not yet fully trained, and Camp Verde and the Yavapai Apache Police have K-9 dogs as well.

The Yavapai Community Foundation also grants funding for organizations to provide services for the elderly, children and families, the environment, rural economic development, physical and mental health and arts and culture.