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September 21, 2012
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Drug competition kicks off K-9 trials

For the average onlooker, the townhouse at the Royal Valhalla hotel is about as nondescript as it gets - wood floors, a plain wood coffee table in the center of the room, a Jägermeister sign hung low on the wall and an older-model vacuum sitting between the staircase and the bathroom.

For any one of 16 police dog teams competing in the South Lake Tahoe Police Canine Association's 5th Annual K-9 Trials narcotics competition Friday, the space held plenty of hidden intrigue - namely heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana.

One stash was tucked behind an electrical outlet, another behind a ventilation duct and a third inside of a seemingly impossible to reach light fixture half way up the staircase.

But none of the drugs were immune to discovery by the dogs and their handlers, who are required to work together quickly and efficiently to take honors at the competition that attracts police dogs from around the region.

"Basically, we're looking to see how the handler and the dog work together," said Andy Herrera, a judge for the competition and a former K-9 handler himself.

And there is room for error in the relationship between man and man's best friend. Handlers play an important role in leading their canine partners through a thorough search of an area, said South Lake Tahoe Police Sgt. Josh Adler.

"If the dog misses dope, it's probably the handler's fault," Adler said with a smirk Friday.

At least one team missed the cocaine hidden in the light fixture, which required a thorough search of the staircase in order for the dogs to catch the drug's smell dropping down from the light, competition judge Ron Cloward said.

The competition serves as training for the teams and is designed to be challenging, Cloward said. Competitors are required to search the townhouse and a series of cars, each in under five minutes.

"You're putting a little bit of a crunch on them, but at the same time it's not impossible," Cloward said.

The canine trials continue Saturday, with the patrol trial portion of the event taking place at the Babe Ruth Baseball Field at the intersection of Lyons Avenue and Rufus Allen Boulevard. This portion of the event measures skills such as obedience, agility and protection. The event starts at 9 a.m. and is free and open to the public.

The trials are the canine association's primary fundraiser each year. About 20 teams are expected to compete Saturday.

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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Sep 21, 2012 10:07PM Published Sep 21, 2012 10:04PM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.