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Police dog, Laika, and partner perform well at national K-9 trials

Worthington Police Officer Randy Liepold, left, his partner Laika and Sgt. Jason Beckmann pose with the awards Liepold and Laika won earlier this month during the USPCA Nation Police Dog trials.

WORTHINGTON -- Crouched on the flat roof of a building, out of sight of the police officer searching below. The suspect may have thought he was safe, but he hadn't counted on the officer's partner.

"She was going absolutely crazy," said Worthington Police Officer Randy Liepold.

Trusting her actions, Liepold stepped back from the building and continued to scan the area until he spotted the alleged criminal and was able to capture him.

"She's great with narcotics, but even better with tracking and area search," Liepold stated Tuesday.

In 2009, Liepold and Laika, who make up one of the two Worthington Police Department's K-9 units, have already apprehended nine people, most of who were fleeing from police. Two they caught in the middle of burglarizing property.

"Trophies are nice, but the work on the street is where she shines," Liepold said, scratching the ears of his partner.

Laika, a Belgian Malinois, is six years old and has been with the department since she was a puppy. She passed her original tests for patrol and narcotics work with flying colors back in 2004, and recently attended the United States Police Canine Association (USPCA) National Police Dog trials in West Des Moines, Iowa, where she and Liepold were very successful.

They scored 179.17 out of 180 points in search, 58.5 out of 60 for agility, 330.3 out of 340 in criminal apprehension and 666 out of 700 for total trial points. They placed 13th out of 94 teams overall, fifth place in team competition and fourth place for search.

Liepold and the rest of the department are pleased with the results of the trials, but according to Worthington Sgt. Jason Beckmann -- who was Laika's first handler and continues to work with the K-9 units in training -- the trials are just to show how a dog's training is going.

"It is nice to be recognized and get the hardware," Beckmann said, looking over Laika's latest awards. "This shows how much work they put into training. But the street stuff is more important."

Liepold said watching dogs and their handlers from all over the nation was exciting.

"It is just phenomenal to see them work," he said.

The City of Worthington and its citizens have always been backed the K-9 units, Beckmann said.

"The council has always been supportive of us, which is huge," Liepold added.

Liepold, Beckmann and Worthington Officer Brett Wiltrout, the second K-9 unit handler, looked on with smiles Tuesday afternoon as Laika spent a few moments acting more dog than trained patrol and narcotics "officer" -- tearing across the grass in pursuit of her favorite ball, then slamming on her doggie brakes to snatch the toy up from the ground. Wiltrout's partner, a German shepherd named Thor, waited in the squad car "probably wining like crazy because he can't play," Wiltrout said with a laugh.

The three officers stood at the K-9 training area near the Prairie Justice Center, surrounded by agility training equipment.

"This stuff was built 10 or 15 years ago and is in pretty rough shape," Beckmann said, adding that Wiltrout recently wrote a proposal in hopes of getting new equipment.

Made of lumber, the paint has faded and the plywood is splintering with age. A structure made for the dogs to crawl under lists to one side, as do some of the hurdles.

The officers are hoping the wooden lumber can be replaced with plastic lumber, which would stand up better to the elements.