VALDOSTA – Most dogs play the part of man’s best friend but these canines are gearing up for a different role: law enforcement officer.
The Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office hosted the first-ever combined Police Data Initiative and Detection National Trial for the United States Police Canine Association from Sept. 18-23.
The team demonstrated to hundreds of onlookers at Lowndes High’s Martin Stadium Thursday how their canines operate within the police department, including apprehension, search work and detection such as narcotics and explosives.
LCSO’s Lt. Herb Bennett said just like regular law enforcement officers, canines have to show a proficiency for the job and go through training to work in the field.
“You have what’s called a regional certification, the guys go to the certification to work the street, and during the certification process, you have to have a minimum score to certify. Then there’s a minimum score that’s good enough to be in nationals, which is what we’re hosting. If you’re good enough to go to nationals, then you’re going against the best of the best in order to achieve a national certification,” he said.
“During these trials, both regionally and nationally, we’ll judge them based on each event, and at the end of the week, we’ll award certain winners in certain events. Doesn’t mean any dog was worse, just means that ‘Hey, this was the best dog that weekend.’ It’s a certification process.”
The USPCA was established in 1971 when two canine associations joined.
“Much has been learned about police canines in over fifty years of service, there is still more to be done to develop their potential. Our members have found that participation in USPCA certifications and training is an invaluable tool for performing their jobs. The strength of both the regional and national offices lies in the diversity of the membership. … The USPCA is the nation’s largest, continuously operating organization that promotes quality-trained and certified canine teams,” they said in a statement on the website.
Bennett said while the trials are serious business, audiences appreciate the trials, adding watching the dogs perform can be “comical and fun” and the dogs in general are very popular with children.
Dave DiSalvo, executive director of Visit Valdosta, praised Bennett’s efforts in making the event a success, saying this was one of the biggest events the city had this year.
“From a community standpoint, everything goes back to tourism and hospitality. Having Herb step up the way he did and accept responsibility for putting this event on … I think has just been fantastic. I see license plates from Minnesota, from New York, from Iowa and it’s just truly amazing,” he said.
“He’s got 400 people here that have started arriving since Friday and Saturday of last week and will stay until Friday and Saturday of this week. So, to get that type of group together to be able to have the support from the community, I hope everybody understands how important it is because Herb’s impact on tourism this week is financially wonderful for Lowndes County and the City of Valdosta.”