Rico never hesitated.
The sleek black dog traversed a narrow catwalk, leaped a barricade and soared through a window several feet off the ground. He soon spotted a “bad guy” and attacked the man’s arm before releasing it when his handler commanded.
A crowd watching through a tall fence applauded as Rico later trotted off the K9 competition course, his tail wagging and his tongue hanging.
The 4-year-old Belgian Malinois and his handler, Kansas City Police Officer Jason Brungardt, were among 20 pairs of canines and handlers who performed before a large crowd Saturday in the Fourth Annual Heartland Police K9 Competition.
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Teams from eight area police departments and Springfield, Mo., tested their skills outside Kansas City’s South Patrol station following a week of training on “street” work, which for dogs often means tracking and helping tackle suspects. Some K9s also are cross-trained to sniff out narcotics or bombs, but those skills were not being measured Saturday.
Judges closely monitored each dog’s obedience while watching body language, heeling distance and courage to go after a “bad guy,” in this case a decoy in padded gear waving a leaf blower. Judges scored the dogs’ handlers on voice commands, hand signals and other items.
“Very rarely will they run it (the course) perfect,” said Joe Caponetto, a Kansas City police canine corps member who helped oversee the event. “It is set up for inherent failure. If it was easy, there wouldn’t be any competition to it.”
Teams participating included relative rookies, such as Gardner Officer James Anderson handling Zeus, as well as savvy veterans, such as Kansas City Sgt. William Brown, now in his seventh year handling Clint.
But when Brown asked 9-year-old Clint to jump through that elevated window Saturday, Clint hesitated and refused.
Blame arthritis, which Clint has in his shoulders, Brown said. Though Clint still jumps fine, landings can hurt.
Retirement time is coming for Clint, who once nabbed a bank robbery suspect involved in a car chase. Brown was the sixth or seventh police car in the chase when the suspect wrecked and tried to run. As soon as he was released, Clint raced past all those cops and reached the robber first.
“My dog took him down pretty quick,” Brown recalled.
Rico, meanwhile, has yet to bite a suspect in his nearly two years on the Kansas City police force.
That’s because every time Brungardt, his handler, has announced, “Police K9. Come out now or you will be bit,” suspects have surrendered. It happened again just recently, when three suspects put their hands up.
“We owe these dogs our lives,” Brungardt said. “They will go to battle for us in the end. That’s what it is all about.”