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California State Parks commemorates 50 years of K-9 program

For 50 years, the state park K-9 program has worked to keep people safe.
Posted at 3:53 PM, Aug 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-16 23:02:23-04

They listened to the commands in German.

Sitz! Fuss!

At the steps of Hearst Castle, eight officers sat next to their partners with badges on their chests and their tongues hanging out to the side.

This year marks the 50th anniversary since the California State Parks established a K-9 program, one meant to protect not only staff and visitors but also valued natural and cultural resources across the state.

"It's an incredible legacy to continue," said Mike Gleckler, Acting K-9 Superintendent out of Sacramento. "It's a pleasure and honor to be a part of such a great program."

Gleckler has been part of the K-9 unit for 10 years. His Czech Republic-born partner Armin is almost four and trained in patrol -- officer protection, suspect apprehension, and tracking. He can also sniff out explosives. Armin and Gleckler regularly perform preliminary explosive detection sweeps for a number of big events on State Park property.

"I think a lot of it comes down to the pride to be able to work for such a department and be able to ensure those parks are protected," he said. "Not only the people that come visit the parks to ensure their safety, but to protect the resource, too."

The K-9 program began back in 1969, before rangers were armed or had full police powers. Rangers typically worked at night and the department felt a K-9 would be a beneficial and protective tool. Sam became the first K-9 for California State Parks.

For the last 40 years, Witmer-Tyson Imports has provided the K-9s, almost all imported from Europe, and training to State Parks.

Jason Rule, who started with the department in 2003, admittedly didn't know much about the K-9 unit or that it was even an option. He started working toward it in 2015 and met K-9 Khan, soon to turn 4, in 2017. Rule said an added benefit to the job is being able to connect with the public in positive ways through a number of outreach events.

"It's not lost on me every day I work," Rule said. "My position in State Parks means I have to tell people 'no' a lot. People don't like to hear that, obviously. But we are greeted much more warmly though by the public. There hasn't been a time where they haven't been happy to see us."

Rule says the role of the program is essential.

"Occasionally, bad things do happen and we're there to first prevent and take care of it. If you like our parks, if you like them clean, if you like them safe, we're absolutely essential to that."

Currently, the state has 17 teams and hopes to one day expand to 24. Thirteen of the teams are dual purpose -- able to perform patrol and detection.

Chris Hendricks and Janko patrol the Oceano Dunes State Park. Both work keeping the public safe and responding to situations when needed. They are also part of the area SWAT team.

"As you can see, these guys are very dedicated, very focused and they're willing to put themselves in harms way to do their jobs and to keep the handlers and officers safe," Hendricks said.

"So overall, not only do they protect the parks but they protect the local communities that we are surrounded by," said James Grennan, California Dept. of Parks and Recreation K-9 Coordinator.

You can help retired K-9s. Donations to the Ranger K-9 organization help educational programs and offset medical expenses of retired canines.

You can learn more about that program here.