The night show ended weeks ago, but on Tuesday afternoon, the Old West’s sense of lawlessness was restored at the Happy Canyon Arena.
Along with his canine partner Lil’ Kim, Bend police officer Kevin Uballez advanced toward the Happy Canyon backdrop, which now represented a burglarized strip mall instead of a row of storefronts from the early days of Pendleton.
Uballez and the Belgian Malinois began clearing the rooms one by one until some clanking and clattering alerted the pair they weren’t alone. As they approached the end of the backdrop, a man sprinted out of one the doors toward the exit of the arena, but Uballez kept Lil’ Kim focused on the source.
As the dog and her handler entered the final rooms, a woman in heavy padding sprung out of the shadows with a baton. Lil’ Kim sunk her teeth into the perp as she screamed and lightly thwacked the dog with the stick before trainer Jeff Gaunt stepped in and congratulated Uballez on completing the scenario. The Happy Canyon setup was one of the more heavily simulated trainings at the Oregon Police Canine Association Fall Seminar, a training session for K-9 units across the state.
While regional trainings for law enforcement are common in Pendleton, a seminar that draws police from the Interstate 5 corridor and beyond are less frequent.
Rob Havice, one of the chairmen of the association, said this is the first canine training seminar the organization has held in Pendleton in eight years.
Cruisers in varying shades of black, white, and blue flocked toward the Pendleton Elks Lodge and the Round-Up grounds as police dogs were trained in the finer points of detection and patrol.
A four-year veteran of the Bend Police Department, Uballez has been working with Lil’ Kim for eight months. He said the dog came to share a name with the rapper through a combination of the name she was given by the breeder and her diminutive size.
Uballez said Lil’ Kim trains regularly, but traveling to Pendleton for the first time gave the police dog a valuable chance to train under varied conditions.
He estimated that only 10 percent of Lil’ Kim’s encounters ends in a bite, but police dogs can be an effective incentive for suspects to submit to arrest that even a drawn gun isn’t.
But the trainings were much more about discipline than canine aggression.
Gaunt, the Happy Canyon trainer, said the scenario was designed for officers to think on their feet as they handle their dog while keeping the dogs focused enough to thoroughly search a location without glancing over it.
Over at the Elks Lodge, Havice was immersed in canine detection, as dogs pressed their snouts down into the floor and walls of the vacated building, cars in the parking lot and the grasses of nearby Stillman Park.
Havice, who works as a dog handler for the Medford Police Department, said some dogs are still trained to detect four drugs — cocaine, heroin, meth, and marijuana — while other dogs are only trained in the first three.
While recreational marijuana has been legal in Oregon for years, Havice said police still use canines to find drug dealers looking to export pot into Idaho and other states where the drug remains illegal.
JD, a Labrador-cocker spaniel mix handled by Reedsport police officer Jim Wood, was putting her three-scent detection skills to the test in an old pickup truck in the lodge parking lot.
JD dutifully sniffed each place where Wood tapped his hand, but he also seemed distracted throughout the course, pausing his sniff mission to wag his tail or look around.
Wood said it was out of character for JD, and trainer Chaz Holmes speculated that maybe he didn’t get enough sleep last night or needed to relieve himself.
“He’s flat today,” Wood said. “I don’t know why.”
Ultimately, Wood concluded that JD wasn’t used to the inland heat versus the cool ocean breezes of Reedsport as JD completed the course.
The dog didn’t alert his handler to anything in the truck, which was actually a good development in a course designed to test the dog’s aptitude for detecting false positives.
JD skipped over the gloves and evidence packaging hidden in the truck bed, as well as the weed hidden in the cabin.
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