Officer looking forward
to first K-9 competition
PUNTA GORDA — Officer Jonathan Mendel admits he’s a little nervous. After all, he’s heading into his first national K-9 trials having never competed at any other level.
There have been 400 hours of training with his partner, K-9 officer Jedi, the necessary certification, plus some time together on the road, but that’s all. It’s like being drafted by a baseball team and skipping all of the minor league development, just heading right to spring training and then to the big show.
“It’s our first real competition. It’s going to be a big stage,” he said.
Mendel, 24, has K-9 handling in his blood, so to speak; his sister and brother in-law both have long-standing experience working with K-9s. Sgt. John Heck is a K-9 officer for the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office, and Mendel’s sister, Master Police Officer Katie Heck, is Jedi’s former handler for the PGPD.
Mendel decided to take over Jedi when his sister was injured in the line of duty, and he said his partnership with the dog is growing stronger the more time they spend together. He views Jedi as another tool that can help fight crime in the city, and they are constantly together, both on and off duty.
But they’ve only been on the road together since May, and Mendel knows how difficult the K-9 trials will be.
He describes the trials, which will take place over the course of a week in Charlotte County starting Oct. 15, as a grueling set of events that will draw the toughest competition from around the country. Mendel will be representing the home team, as Punta Gorda is set to play host to the trials.
According to Mendel, events include “bite work,” in which the dogs will be tested in a host of ways when asked to pursue a criminal subject; “article searches” will find the dogs hunting for key pieces of evidence; “dope work” will test the dogs’ ability to find hidden drugs in five identical automobiles as well as in a building; the “hot box” event will see the dogs trying to locate a hidden suspect; and an obstacle course will test the dog’s agility, broad jump ability and other skills.
Handlers and their K-9s are awarded points based on different criteria for each event. During bite work, for instance, a handler is given a certain number of commands for the dog, and each time they exceed that limit, points start getting docked.
Mendel and Jedi hope to avoid that and have been working with the CCSO K-9 team to prepare for the trials. The CCSO also plans to have a team compete, including Mendel’s brother-in-law, Heck.
They’ll be among the 150 dogs and handlers vying for the honor of Top Dog, but to do so teams have to earn a perfect 700 points, Mendel said. Success can depend on a host of variables, from the dog’s personality to where each team is scheduled to compete during the day.
Mendel said there are some handler and K-9 teams that have the luxury of doing nothing but training for the competition, while teams like Mendel and Jedi also have a regular workload to contend with while they prep for the trials.
“Everyone wants to be top dog but that requires excellence,” Mendel said. “There’s going to be a whole lot of refining for us in the next few weeks.”