LUSK – This past weekend, the Lusk Police Department hosted the United States Police Canine Association (USPCA) Region 14 Certification Trials. Officers and their K-9 partners (including the K-9 unit from Lusk) had opportunities to certify in different areas.
Saturday’s events, which took place at the Niobrara County High School, included narcotics detection, explosives detection and tracking.
Sunday included Police Dog 1 certifications in agility, obedience and bite work (to apprehend subjects).
The K-9 Region 14 Trials are a method for officers and dogs to maintain their certifications.
Region 14’s website describes the purpose of certifications. “Annual Certifications in the disciplines of Patrol Work, Detection, and Tracking are hosted to measure that K-9 Teams across the United States are following carefully calculated standards. This assures accountability with agencies to make a commitment to provide the best possible Canine Teams working the streets of each community.”
Region 14 of the USPCA includes Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and Hawaii, according to the site.
USPCA Region 14 President Jory Shoopman said nine dogs participated this weekend. Normally, there are around 15 dogs, but she said COVID was likely the reason for fewer this year.
“My dog only does narcotics,” Shoopman said. “There’s been years that I haven’t passed and then there’s been years that I have. It just kind of depends on the dog and the handler, with good days and bad days.”
Shoopman said teams that do not pass have another opportunity to recertify, usually a month to six weeks later.
Precincts can choose what organization to certify with. The USPCA has provided certifications since 1971, according to Shoopman.
“The Lusk PD dog does everything except explosives,” Shoopman said.
Lusk Officer Jake Gordon and his partner Loki trained in tracking, bite work and narcotics.
Gordon said the weekend went well for the pair.
“It was anxiety, nervousness, excitement all wrapped up in one,” he said. “We had a great time.”
According to Gordon, Loki did well, especially considering this was Loki’s first time being at a trial with multiple other handlers.
Gordon said he started trial-specific training a month and a half ago.
One of Gordon and Loki’s trainers, Court Bolton, said, usually a handler and K-9 will certify in all three areas – tracking, narcotics and bite work – after two years.
Gordon and Loki have been working together for a little less than one year.
“So, it was really neat to show the judges what we’ve been doing,” said Gordon, “that we’re progressing, and that Loki is doing really well in training.”
Gordon said he has been with the Lusk PD for about four years. He started working with Loki at the end of June last year.
Before training, Loki spent two to three weeks with Gordon to build a bond. After that, Gordon and Loki trained for 10 weeks in Wellington, Colorado.
“At the end of the 10 weeks, the trainer had me go through the USPCA trial,” Gordon said. Gordon recalls Loki finding a tourist’s lost wallet in his first week after getting back to Lusk.
Before Loki, the department hadn’t had a K-9 for several years. Gordon said Lusk Chief of Police Bo Krein wanted to start a K-9 unit again. He approached Gordon about being the handler.
After Gordon said yes, they reached out to different trainers, finding Joe Clingan. Clingan helped the department find a dog that fit their needs.
Loki is a purebred Belgian Malinois from Holland. In June, he will be three years old.
“Very high drive, very energetic, loves to go outside and play all the time. Even after the trials, we got home and he was still going,” Gordon said.
K-9s typically live in their handler’s home. Gordon said the duties a K-9 officer are different, beginning with taking care of his K-9 partner’s everyday needs.
Being in a smaller department, Gordon decides what types of training they work on each week.
“On top of when dispatch calls you, I am trying to keep the dog up to par and working with him,” Gordon said. “It definitely makes it a little busier.”
Gordon said they train equally in narcotics, tracking and bite work, even though right now, most of their work is in narcotics detection, with US-85 going through town.
“I never know what we’re going to be called out for, so I want to be trying to be ready for whatever we can be,” Gordon said.
Gordon sets a high bar for the K-9 unit, wanting to show the community and city council how beneficial it is for the department.
It has been rewarding for Gordon to see Loki’s training pay off in narcotics searches, especially with the highway patrol. He also said he has enjoyed seeing the city council become more accepting of the program, as they have begun to see the benefits.
Gordon encourages the public to meet Loki and ask questions, if they see the team around town (provided they are not actively working or training).
“They can always come up and ask me to pet him. Most of the time it will be a yes,” Gordon said.