Payson police officer Les Barr and his dog Kodiak returned to the Rim country March 18 with a third-place trophy that they won in the narcotics searches division at the Third Annual Phoenix Police Canine Trials.
It's quite an accomplishment, said Barr's supervisor Sgt. Rod Mamero, especially since Barr and the German shepherd have only been a team for eight months.
"That's really good, considering they were competing against dogs who have been paired up for six or seven years," Mamero said.
Barr started working with Kodiak when he was 18 months old.
"The dog was acquired through funds donated by the Gila County Attorney's Office," Mamero said. The department needed another canine to take the place of Brigg, Mamero's dog, which was injured during a search last year.
Barr and Kodiak spent two months at the state's canine training academy, studying under Ralph Pendergast, who Barr and Mamero consider to be the best police dog trainer in the state.
"The key is selecting the right dog from the very beginning," Mamero said. "You want a dog that shows courage, playfulness, good hunt drive and good prey drive. You don't want some land shark that will bite anything in sight. Any dog can bite and chew. Getting the dog trained to do it at the right time is critical."
Barr and Kodiak competed in the two-day trials at Thunderbird High School against 40 other teams from all over Arizona, including federal agencies such as the U.S. Border Patrol. There was even a team from Oxnard, Calif. --the team that eventually walked away with the top-dog award.
"They won the top agency, best haircut, Miss congeniality ..." Mamero said. "If there was a trophy to get, they got it."
"They didn't compete in narcotics searches, though, which was good for me," Barr said.
During that competition, the dogs were given five minutes to search a vehicle, and a building.
Points were awarded for the number of "finds" or drugs they located during each drill. The second day of the competition, the dogs were sent through a maze of office furniture, file cabinets and bookcases, and were awarded points for those finds.
"Kodiak found six on the stage," Barr said, "plus, he found the secret bonus find, which was worth another 50 points. He was the only dog to do that."
By the time the fur settled, Kodiak was the third top-dog in drug sniffing.