TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE – Retirement doesn’t always mean taking a back seat, a point highlighted Saturday at the inaugural Defenders K-9 Trials.
John DeVries and his 4-year-old Dutch shepherd Blaze competed in the retired category of the competition, but don’t let the classification of the duo fool you.
Both the dog owner and animal themselves must be retired from active duty to participate in that class, but what Blaze did showed he still has what it takes to be on the beat, if necessary.
In the area search event of the competition, dogs were required to pick out where a person was hiding among a handful of Humvees spread out on a softball field. Blaze went directly to the vehicle where Staff Sgt. Nicholas Taylor was hiding, where the shepherd managed to unlock a latch located on the bottom of one of the vehicle doors with his nose.
Luckily for Taylor – no other dog had been able to access the vehicle up to that point in the competition – he had a protective arm chew sleeve with him, which he gave to the animal right away once he was inside. Taylor said he was surprised that the dog entered the vehicle, but knew something like that could have been coming.
“He was nice about it,” Taylor said. “I expected it. Most dogs know how to get into anything.”
DeVries, a 22-year retired Air Force veteran and retired Sutter County sheriff’s deputy, said Blaze had only been on duty for three months before a work-related injury forced both man and dog to retire.
“He’s a pretty smart dog,” DeVries said. “I’ve been with him since he was a puppy.”
“I was waiting for the bark (to signify to the handler that there’s someone hiding inside the vehicle), and then the door opened and I’m thinking ‘Maybe they’re feeding him the sleeve.’ ”
Saturday’s patrol portion of the two-day event, sanctioned by the Western States Police Canine Association, featured 26 patrol dogs from 13 police and military agencies, including Edwards Air Force Base, the U.S. Forest Service and various Northern California police and sheriff’s departments.
Day two saw the animals participate in four events: agility, obedience, patrol search and protection. The dogs are scrutinized pretty closely, as Ron Cloward, secretary of the sanctioning organization and one of the judges for Saturday’s events, pointed out.
“You have to judge based on what the perfect dog is going to do,” he said.
Friday’s events centered on detection of explosives and drugs, and featured 32 narcotics dogs and 11 bomb dogs from various agencies. Andrea Contreras, Western States Police Canine Association president, said Friday’s event was the largest narcotics dog trial the organization has sanctioned.
The Travis Defenders’ Association earned the right to host this weekend’s event, which coincides with National Police Week, after one of Travis’ dogs won first place in a narcotics portion of an earlier event at South Lake Tahoe.
Tech. Sgt. Chris Smith, who’s the kennel master at Travis, said the Travis Defenders approached the Western States Police Canine Association in March about hosting an event. The date was set in May, and the race was on to prepare.
“We were just going 100 miles per hour securing vendors and sponsors,” he said.
Smith said he intends to bring the event back next year, and hopes to keep the date to coincide with National Police Week.
As for Blaze, the skills run in the family. His father – or sire – Rudy won 77 awards in four years with DeVries. The owner was happy Taylor was prepared when Blaze accessed the Humvee.
“It was a good thing he had that sleeve,” DeVries said.
For full results of the competition, check the Western States Police Canine Association website, www.wspca.net, or Travis Air Force Base’s Facebook Page later this week.