Clay County K-9 team earn top scores in narcotics certification

Tuesday, September 25, 2007
(Photo by Kris Todd) Clay County Deputy Sheriff Zach Larsen and his partner, Clay County K-9 dog Max, earned perfect scores during a recent Midwest Canine Alternative K-9 narcotics certification course held in Minnesota.

By Kris Todd

Daily Reporter Staff

Max and his Clay County handler have done it again.

Clay County's German Shepherd K-9 officer, who was born in August 2004 in the Slovak Republic, and his new handler, Clay County Deputy Zach Larsen, scored top points at a recent training and certification session held in Minnesota.

Max, who joined the Clay County law enforcement ranks in the fall of 2005, is considered an "all-purpose" dog and understands commands in English and Czech and is trained to track suspects, missing people and children. As recent scores show, he also is adept in narcotics detection and handler protection.

Larsen, a Spencer native, was appointed a Clay County Deputy last October. The 36-year-old began his law enforcement career with the Spencer Police Department in 1993. After seven and one-half years, Larsen traveled to Poweshiek County, where he served as a deputy sheriff for six years and as a K-9 handler of Gerry, a dual-purpose German Shepherd K-9 dog, for four years.

"I moved down south, basically, to become a handler," Larsen recalled. "...I'd always wanted a K-9 dog."

He helped train Bailey, Clay County's first K-9 dog "hired" in 1996.

The 11-year-old Labrador, which was retired from duty in the summer of 2005, and his handler, Deputy Brad Hawley, were also a highly-awarded Clay County K-9 team.

While serving in Poweshiek County, Larsen and Gerry received first-place honors in tracking their first year competing. By their third year together, the K-9-and-handler team earned the "Top Dog" award for rating the best in narcotics detection and apprehension among 45 similarly-cast teams.

Max, meanwhile, earned 655 of 700 points possible and claimed regional "Rookie Dog of the Year" honors with former Clay County Deputy Eric Ring during the 2006 Region 21 USPCA (United States Police Canine Association) K-9 Patrol Dog Trials held in Des Moines.

When Larsen returned to Clay County last October, and was named Max's new handler in mid-July following Ring's transferral to Palo Alto County, the K-9-and-handler team laid claim to three separate drug finds their first week working together.

"We're still in our newlywed stage," Larsen chuckled, "but the bond gets stronger and stronger between (a handler) and the dog."

When asked to describe his 3-year-old German Shepherd working partner's personality, Larsen chuckled again as he explained, "He's fun. He's full of you-know-what and vinegar. He's a very intelligent dog, very hyper and (very adaptable)."

"You have to like dogs to want to do this," the Clay County K-9 handler added. "You spend more time with the dog than you do with your own family. There's just no getting around that. It's everything from knowing the dog is doing a good job finding drugs to if he should ever be put in the situation where he has to apprehend somebody or track, you hope that he does it and you hope that your training pays off."

Max's training with Larsen did "pay off" when the team recently completed a Midwest Canine Alternative K-9 narcotics certification course in Minnesota. The duo aced it, scoring 100 of 100 points on every search.

Of the three vehicles Larsen and Max searched, the team was allotted 8 minutes to find two hidden items. The Clay County K-9 and his handler accomplished this task in 1:59.

"With the inside search, you're allowed 14 minutes to find the two hides in three rooms. We did it in 3:05 seconds," Larsen recalled. "And with the article search, that's where they simulate where someone throws something. It's like a crime scene. If someone should throw a gun or money or something of that effect in the woods or in a ditch or in a field, that's considered an article search. This scenario was with a gun. Time allowed was 15 minutes. We found it in :33."

While Larsen and Max continue to train together on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis, the pair intend to continue their training and eventually receive bite work, apprehension and tracking certifications through Midwest Canine Alternative K-9.

"Once they learn stuff, they never forget it," Larsen said. "It's just a matter of finetuning."

The Clay County deputy sheriff, meanwhile, is ready to travel with Max where needed and when they are available.

* Tax-deductible donations earmarked for ongoing support of the Clay County K-9 unit may be dropped off or mailed to the Clay County Sheriff Department, 3121 W. Fourth St., Spencer.

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