This will be a year of firsts for the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office’s Canine Unit.
For the first time, the unit will compete in the U.S. Police Canine Association’s regional certification trials from Monday, May 20, through Thursday, May 23.
It will also be the first year in which the certification trials are held in Highlands County.
“That’s an unusual thing,” said Jose Bosque, a Lakeland Police Department officer, who is director for the region that includes all of Florida, Alabama and Georgia. He said it’s rare that an agency competing for the first time would host the event.
Bosque expects that more than 75 canine unit dogs from varying units will participate in various competitions that focus on dogs trained to work with patrol officers, and detector dogs trained to find bodies, drugs, bombs or other targets.
“It’s the Olympics for police dogs,” said Bosque said. “That’s how we look at it.”
The dogs that compete the best will be certified to go to national events.
Lt. Jim McGann, who is in charge of Highlands County’s canine unit, said that the dogs here have been getting a lot of training.
“We’ve been training very hard,” he said. “We certainly have home field advantage.”
But that also increases the pressure on Highlands County’s team, he said.
Highlands County will have patrol operations and narcotics dogs involved in the competition, he said. All five dogs will participate in the narcotics detection competition, while four of the five will be in the patrol competition.
McGann said the extra training the dogs receive as well as being able to participate “enhances of the professionalism of our unit and the capabilities of our dogs.” The canines are meeting national standards, he said.
The location of Highlands County in the center of the state was a favorable factor in it landing the competition, Bosque said.
The events will be open to the public. One event, however, on Thursday, May 23, is designed to be a public display and will include all participants in the regional certification finals. It will begin at 7 p.m. at Sebring High School’s football stadium.
Other events, all of which begin at 8 a.m. are: