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St. Croix County Sheriff's deputy and K9 handler Jason Sykora with K9 officer Doc wait at the start line for the agility course. Submitted photo

St. Croix County K9 officers earn national recognition

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The United States Police Canine Association held a national trial for teams of K9 handlers and their dogs Sept. 27 through Oct. 2 in West Des Moines, Iowa. Teams gathered from as far away as Louisiana and New York. Among the competitors were two teams from the St. Croix County Sheriff's department. In order to qualify to compete at the national level the teams must first compete and succeed with high scores at the regional level.

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Deputies and K9 handlers Josh Stenseth and Jason Sykora did just that, missing first place at the regional event by just 2.9 points out of a possible 2800 points. It earned them a trip to the national competition and a chance to earn national certification. It is the first time teams from St. Croix County have competed nationally.

Dogs and their handlers compete in the following categories: obedience, agility, search and apprehension.

Both Stenseth and Sykora were pleased with the results. Sykora and Doc earned a fourth place overall out of 94 competitors, having earned a second place in agility and a fourth place in search work. Stenseth with Ace earned a fifth place in agility work.

"Basically what it comes down to, is that judges at the national level are much more stringent and it is a lot harder to certify at the national competition," said Stenseth.

The work is more intense at that level and both Stenseth and Sykora came back refreshed and confident in their work and certified at the National level. Fellow K9 handler Justin Johnson went along to serve as their decoy during the apprehension part of the competition.

"It is exciting and stressful," said Stenseth. "It is fun and you meet new people but the stress comes because you want to do well. It was huge for us to do well and we did."

At the National level each event is judged by five different judges with the highest and lowest scores being discarded.

"We can work for all these different agencies," said Stenseth. Recently St. Croix County's Canine unit completed six months of mutual aid for Pierce County.

"Our dogs have had a ton of success," said Stenseth. "The biggest thing we do is searching for narcotics and tracking. One of the things we would like the public to know is these dogs are categorized as a locating tool."

"It's that nose," joined in Sykora.

Stenseth and his K9 partner Ace have been with the county since 2007. Sykora and his partner Doc started in 2008 and the newest member Justin Johnson with Cash joined in 2009.

In the beginning each dog and handler must complete a 12 week course in patrol work, followed by a four week course in narcotics. Johnson and Cash were just starting their narcotics class at the time of this interview.

By federal guides the teams must do a minimum of 16 hours of training a month. Stenseth estimated their teams train at least 10 hours a week.

"Twenty minutes here and there add up quickly," said Stenseth.

The K9 officers and their handlers are available for public demonstration and they regularly visit all of the schools.

In March, St. Croix County will be hosting the 2010 USPCA Narcotics Trial and a day-long update on case law.

For a public demonstration of the K9 unit, call the St. Croix County Sheriff's department at (715) 381-4320. For more information on the United States Police Canine Association, go to www.uspcak9.com

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