MINDEN - Against the bleak backdrop of California's Alcatraz Island, the Douglas County Sheriff's Office K-9 unit took top team and individual honors in the U.S. Park Police annual training challenge.
Deputy David Stanley and his K-9 officer, Hondo, outperformed patrol dogs from across California to place first as top handler/dog.
The competition attracted competitors from 40 police agencies, but the Douglas team was the only unit from Nevada.
"I was very surprised," Stanley said. "It's a new dog and I'm a new handler."
Stanley has been a deputy for almost six years. He acquired Hondo, a 90-pound German shepherd, as a 6-week-old puppy.
Stanley said he wasn't sure if the dog would make the transition to K-9 officer. But Hondo comes from a line of patrol dogs. His sister, Bella, works with Sgt. Joe Duffy, supervisor of the K-9 unit.
Hondo has been a K-9 officer since February and has assisted with 13 arrests.
Douglas County has six K-9 officers and handlers and all participated in the Alcatraz Island event Oct. 22 and 23.
"It was very humbling and a big honor to do so well," Duffy said. "We were competing with some big agencies."
Other competitors came from San Francisco, Sacramento and West Sacramento police departments as well as the park police.
Douglas participants included deputies Scott Battcher with Rony, Dean Kumagai with Akeeva, Rick Koontz and Scout, Brian Sanchez and Lucy and Duffy and Stanley with Bella and Hondo.
The unit trainer, Brian Howard, also accompanied the team.
The dogs live with their handlers and undergo four hours a week of mandatory training.
"It's a big responsibility," Duffy said. "Dogs are easier to find than handlers. The dogs belong to the department, but they are the officers' responsibilities."
Before becoming a handler, Stanley worked as a decoy and agitator. In other words, he acted as the "bad guy" as the K-9 officers were trained.
"I always wanted to do it," he said.
The dogs and their handlers go to school for a month before returning to the department.
The officers have to learn German commands because most of the dogs are from Europe and trained in that language. The animals respond to about a dozen commands.
"It's the only tool in law enforcement that can be recalled if deployed," Duffy said.
"They know more than we give them credit for," Stanley said.
The K-9 officers are supported by private donations.
Kal-Kan Foods Inc., near Reno, donates dog food and the community donates money which pays for everything for the dogs' upkeep from chew toys to protective "bite wear" for the decoys during training.
The Douglas County Sheriff's Office has six K-9 officers including four German shepherds, a black Labrador retriever and a golden retriever. Unit supervisor Sgt. Joe Duffy said the program is funded through private donations which may be made to DCSO Canine Fund, c/o Douglas County Sheriff's Office, P.O. Box 218, Minden, 89423, or dropped off at the sheriff's office in the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center, 1625 Eighth St., Minden. For information, call Duffy at 782-9075.