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County K9 teams earn national placements

St. Croix County Sheriff's deputies and their K9 officers are from the left, Josh Stenseth and Ace, Justin Johnson and Cash and Jason Sykora and Doc. The team recently placed third overall in the National Detector Dog Trials. Stenseth took fourth-place overall in individual competition. They are at their practice grounds in New Richmond.1 / 2
St. Croix County Deputy and canine handler Josh Stenseth and his dog, K9 officer Ace, earned a fourth-place overall in the National Narcotics Detector K9 Trials. Photos by Margaret A. Ontl2 / 2

From May 2 to May 5, the United States Police Canine Association held its 2010 National Detector Dog Trials in Biwabik, Minn. The event was hosted by the Gilbert Police Department and was held at Giant's Ridge Ski Resort. Seventy canine and handler teams from across the United States participated and competed in the event for the rare national certification and awards presented to the top placing participants. Among those participating and competing were three canine and handler teams from the St. Croix County Sheriff's Department.

Deputies Joshua Stenseth, Jason Sykora, and Justin Johnson, along with their canine partners Ace, Doc, and Cash (respectively), participated in the trial. The three canines are regionally certified narcotic detector dogs with the United States Police Canine Association and have had a lot of success locating drugs and drug paraphernalia in St. Croix County during their patrols.

The teams all had an extremely successful trial in Biwabik with all three canines locating all of the hidden drugs. The team scored high enough to earn the St. Croix County Sheriff's Department a national third place department team title. Deputy Stenseth and his canine partner, Ace had an excellent performance earning them a fourth place individual title, with a score of 196.6 out of 200 total points.

The trial required the teams to find drugs in both indoor and outdoor locations. The drugs included marijuana, heroin, crack cocaine and methamphetamine.

Outside, two out of five vehicles had hidden drugs. Inside, the teams also had to locate drugs in two hidden locations.

All of the teams start with a possible 200 points. Points are deducted for the final score based on the how the teams performed. Judging takes into account the dogs' alert, the handlers recognizing the dogs' alert, the interest and energy level of the dogs.

"It's always an education," said Sykora. "Everything is based on the dog's nose."

Common places the K9 officers and their handlers may do narcotics detection work would be in work places, schools, street work and for demonstrations.

The teams train monthly in New Richmond, where last year, with donations from area businesses including Home Depot, a training course was built on the site of the old county incinerator.