Survival of the furriest

green-mountain-iron-dog_029

Despite the cool temperature, Tatjana Salcedo and her husky Max, 5, quickly get through the water-filled trench that served as the mid-point obstacle of the race at the Green Mountain Iron Dog competition in Colchester last Saturday. (Photos by Amanda Schroth)

At 10:30 a.m. last Saturday, Milton police Officer Jason Porter and K9 Hatchi ran along the edges of Lake Champlain off Camp Kiniya. They weren’t looking for a suspect or tracking drugs; rather, they were one of over 120 dog and handler teams to participate in the 17th Annual Green Mountain Iron Dog competition.

For Porter and Hatchi, a German Shepard, the approximately 1.5-mile course with obstacles for dog and trainer was nothing new.

“The course is designed to mimic real life situations and training as an extension of what we do,” he said.

The event, hosted by the nonprofit Vermont Police Canine Association, raises money for the training and equipment for Vermont K9 units above and beyond what departments are capable of. Sometimes that means sending local officers to out of state trainings or bringing in a professional for classes.

The VPCA helps train and support the 42 K9 units in Vermont, whether they are state or local teams.

Cpl. Dave Dewey of the Colchester Police Department has organized the Green Mountain Iron Dog competition since its conception. The original event was geared toward cop and military K9 teams, but as the event became more popular, it was opened up to civilians.

“We try to simulate what we might see on a K9 deployment, which is how it started,” Dewey said. A couple officers were inspired to make a Spartan Run-like race for dogs and handlers with the goal to create a challenge for all skill levels.

The course featured a variety of obstacles, including balance beams, hurdles and even a pit of water. Some obstacles were K9-only, while others required both handler and dog to attempt, such as walls the handlers climbed over and their dogs crawled under.

Dewey and K9 Tazor ran the course last to signal the volunteers stationed throughout the course that the day was over. Tazor has been with Dewey since the K9 was 9 months old; he’s now 10 years.

Rick Manning and his wife, Beth, of Colchester have volunteered for 16 of the event’s 17 years. For them, the joy of the event is “seeing the variety of dogs.

“Every year is different. The course is adaptable every year,” Rick Manning said.

The 1.5-mile course is the biggest part of the event. The early morning was reserved for the pro race, for anyone who wanted to be timed at the chance to win an award. Teams were sent out one at a time, with a break of four to five minutes in between to prevent overcrowding. Cop, military and civilian teams all participated.

Haley Tucker from Enfield, N.H. ran with her pitbull Chester. She learned of the event through her previous work at Lebanon, N.H.’s police department, which also had two K9s participate.

Jacob Letendre came all the way from Maine with his 2-year-old dog Reese, a search and rescue dog. He saw the event on Facebook and decided to run.

The event also included a 100-yard dash for dogs and a suspect search house. There was also a drug search house for trained K9 units.

A live demonstration was performed by the Northeastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council, which showed spectators how dogs can react quickly to their handler’s command.

One demonstration showcased K9 Yak, who charged at a suspect to attack but quickly withdrew at his handler’s command.

The group also demonstrated how most K9s are sociable off duty. K9s go home with their owners and live like household dogs. Just like a police officer, they have their work hours and their home hours.

The event concluded with the presentation of awards for the several categories. The fastest course time was 13:45 from 15-year-old Davis Alger.

green-mountain-iron-dog_023

Milton Officer Jason Porter and his K9, Hatchi, of Milton run along the shores of Lake Champlain during the Iron Dog competition.

green-mountain-iron-dog_009

The competition is designed to replicate scenarios a K9 could face, such as needing to be carried by their handler.

green-mountain-iron-dog_002

Haley Tucker of Enfield, NH and her pitbull, Chester, take on the balance beam.

green-mountain-iron-dog_034

Cpl. Dave Dewey of Colchester organizes the event.