Donors chip in to send K-9s to national competition

Published 7:19 am Thursday, September 24, 2009

Despite doing so well at a state police dog competition and certification in July, a team of local K-9 handlers weren’t expecting to go to nationals because of budgetary reasons.

But that all changed when a number of donations trickled in, and now Austin police Lt. Matt Holten, officer Eric Blust and Sgt. Jeff Ellis of the county sheriff’s office will be going to Des Moines, Iowa, this weekend for the U.S. Police Canine Association’s National Field Trials — along with their decorated dogs.

“It was a very pleasant surprise,” Holten said. “We didn’t think we’d be able to go.”

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The three local law enforcement officials, along with a fourth regional K-9 handler, will be looking to repeat as champions — last year, they beat four other top teams that had qualified from regions across the country.

In addition, their dogs will be looking to snag some more individual honors — Holten’s Ghost came in second at the Minnesota competition, while Blust’s Bosco took fourth.

The two dogs also finished fifth and sixth, respectively, out of roughly 125 dogs at last year’s national competition.

Both are offspring of Ellis’ Tazer — a five-time national champion and 2008 runner-up who is only recently back to competition following leg surgery.

“We have a pretty good history,” Holten said. “We take a lot of pride in it.”

Back in August, Holten said he received a letter from a Rochester woman who had learned that the team didn’t have the funds to go to nationals.

She wanted to help them get there by donating.

Holten said he didn’t know if he could accept the donation, but after checking with police chief Paul Philipp and city administrative services director Tom Dankert, he got the O.K.

But more help would be needed, so Holten and Blust began reaching out to people they have become close with.

Paul Leif, whose son helps work as a dog trainer, chipped in.

So did Rondell Peck-Eilertson at Pet Watchers Boarding Kennel, where the dogs often stay, and business-owner Carlton Frank, who wanted to repay the officers for help cracking a burglary a few years ago.

In all, seven different sponsors raised $1,800 for the team’s trip.

“K-9 units in general are so important,” Leif said. “(This team) is a pride of the community.”

Frank agreed, noting that small communities rally around teams like this one.

“It’s a feather in (Austin’s) hat,” he said.

Despite not knowing for sure that they’d be going to Des Moines until three weeks ago, Holten said the dogs have been training hard and are ready to go.

“I hope we do better than we did last year,” he said. “The dogs have been pretty consistent.”

The national competion will run Monday through Thursday, with awards being doled out Friday.

Holten said the dogs compete in a number of timed and judged events, which focus on obedience, agility, and search and retrieval work.

When all is said and done, each dog is scored on a 700-point scale.

So, any predictions on how the local pups will do?

“I think they’ll be in the top again,” Leif said. “It’s always fun to have bragging rights.”