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For the dogs: K-9 trials showcase paw enforcement

Zeus was getting a cheeseburger for his efforts.

The 5-year-old Belgian Malinois with the Fresno Police Department won top dog honors at the Metropolitan Police Department’s 32nd annual K-9 Trials, held over the weekend at South Point.

“It literally brought a tear to my eye because the amount of energy, time, blood, sweat and tears — it’s no joke,” said Zeus’ handler, officer Jim Young, upon hearing Zeus’ name called as top dog on Sunday. “We put a lot into these dogs.”

To Young, it’s all been worth it: “It’s truly the best job in law enforcement,” he said of being a K-9 officer.

And for Zeus, his reward would be a cheeseburger, Young said.

The K-9 Trials brought together 84 teams — a team consists of a dog and handler — from 27 different agencies based in Nevada, California, Utah, Arizona and Texas.

While most of the teams were from law enforcement agencies, including Metro and the North Las Vegas and Henderson police departments, there were also teams from some of the Las Vegas hotels and resort corporations and the Department of Defense.

The public portion of the event, which was free to attend, drew several thousand people to South Point Arena and Equestrian Center on Sunday for events that focused on agility and handler protection.

Another series of competitive events involving explosives and narcotics detection exercises and searches — exercises that required a controlled environment, organizers said — took place Saturday but were not open to the public.

The trials were hosted and organized in part by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Foundation and Metro. The foundation is a nonprofit that raises money for a variety of police and community initiatives and programs including training and new equipment for Metro, as well as the veterinary care for retired K-9s.

Money raised at the event — via merchandise sales, raffle tickets and $1 tickets to cast votes in the People’s Choice Awards for favorite K-9 — will go to the foundation. (Apollo, a 2-year-old Labrador retriever with MGM Resorts whose handler is Morgan Hatch, won the People’s Choice Award.)

“Our mission is all about supporting (Metro) Sheriff (Kevin) McMahill’s priorities for community engagement, officer training and equipment needs,” said Karen Marben, the foundation’s executive director. “And so the monies raised today help with all of those, plus, specifically, the K-9 (veterinary care).”

Lt. Jeff Goodwin, who oversees Metro’s K-9 Section, remembered Kimura, a 6-year-old Dutch shepherd who died in July after suffering a medical emergency. Kimura, who had survived a 2020 stabbing attack, had won the tough dog award at the 2023 K-9 Trials.

“It’s devastasting,” Goodwin said. “The amount of time and effort that they put in on each and every dog — it’s a lot financially for the department, but the bond between the handler and the dog is so remarkable. It’s almost like losing a family member.”

In addition to top dog, the two other major awards at the event were tough dog, which was won by Argo, a 5-year-old Belgian Malinois, also of the Fresno Police Department, and top agency, won by the Taylorsville City Police Department, which is based outside Salt Lake City, Utah.

Sgt. Jake Palmer of the Taylorsville department said that while Sunday’s event was entertaining, the larger benefit of having his department’s K-9 unit named top agency in a competition featuring almost 30 agencies is that it would help reinforce to the Taylorsville community that the K-9s used by that city’s police department, as well as the dogs’ officer handlers, are highly trained.

“It’s not just about coming down here and competing,” Palmer said. “It’s about proving to the public that we are dedicated to being professional and having the top-trained dogs.”

Palmer and two colleagues, officers C.J. Moore and Hayden Hoffman, brought their dogs Koda, a 4-year-0ld German shepherd, as well as Turbo, 3, and Ghost, 3, both Belgian Malinoises.

So what rewards would these dogs be getting?

“They’re getting steak dinners,” Palmer said.

Contact Brett Clarkson at bclarkson@reviewjournal.com.

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