K-9 Duke pulls off surprise win at police dog competition

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published August 20, 2019

 Duke, a 6-year-old German shepherd, celebrated his trophy win with a weekend vacation with his handler, Grosse Pointe Farms Public Safety Officer Tim Harris.

Duke, a 6-year-old German shepherd, celebrated his trophy win with a weekend vacation with his handler, Grosse Pointe Farms Public Safety Officer Tim Harris.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

 Grosse Pointe Farms Public Safety officer Tim Harris and K-9 Duke pose outside the Farms Public Safety Department with the trophy that Duke earned recently at the United States  Police Canine Association Region 19  competition in Sterling Heights.

Grosse Pointe Farms Public Safety officer Tim Harris and K-9 Duke pose outside the Farms Public Safety Department with the trophy that Duke earned recently at the United States Police Canine Association Region 19 competition in Sterling Heights.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

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GROSSE POINTE FARMS — They entered at the last minute and only had about a week to prepare, but that didn’t stop Grosse Pointe Farms Public Safety Officer Tim Harris and his K-9, Duke, from walking away with an award from the United States Police Canine Association Region 19 competition, which took place Aug. 4-8 in and around Heins Field in Sterling Heights.

Duke and Harris received a trophy for third place in criminal apprehension. Harris said only two points separated first and third place in this category.

“He had a near perfect run,” Harris said of Duke.

Harris was supposed to be at the competition because he’d agreed to be a decoy for friend and fellow K-9 handler Andrew Crowe, a constable with the Guelph Police Service in Ontario. Guelph is roughly 40 minutes from Toronto, and Harris said Crowe and another Guelph officer really helped him and Duke improve in tracking.

The three officers often train together as well. So when Crowe needed someone to serve as a “bad guy” for Crowe’s dog, Charger, to attack in the competition, Harris agreed to suit up in the protective bite sleeve and bite suit.

Harris wasn’t a member of the USPCA, but Crowe thought he needed to join to serve as a decoy. After joining, Harris decided to sign up for the competition as well.

“I thought, I might as well give it a try — I’m going to be there anyway,” he said. “So I started training six days before the trial.”

If that sounds like a student cramming for an exam, it is.

“Some of these dogs do hundreds of reps first,” Harris acknowledged.

Duke, a German shepherd who recently celebrated his sixth birthday, has been with Harris since May 5, 2014. Harris was selected out of a field of several other Farms officers to become the city’s first K-9 officer. It’s a commitment of about 10 years for the dog and the officer; after that point, Duke will retire to full-time pet status.

Farms resident Gretchen Valade, a businesswoman and philanthropist, offered to cover costs associated with the city’s K-9 program, sponsoring it through her Dirty Dog Jazz Café, which is also in the Farms. In honor of that affiliation, Duke was named for jazz great Duke Ellington.

The competition was no cakewalk for K-9s or their handlers.

“It’s quite an involved process,” said Crowe, who has taken part in this competition about four or five times before. “It’s said to be one of the most difficult courses in the U.S.”

Region 19 covers all of Michigan and Ontario, but Harris said this event even drew officers from Illinois to compete in obedience, agility, evidence searches, criminal apprehension, box searches and other skills. The competitions aren’t for bragging rights — Crowe said participation and high performance in these events can be used in court to demonstrate the competence of the dog and handler.

“Duke performed very well for a dog that had never seen that sort of field before,” Crowe said.

He said all of the categories were close.

“In all of the years I’ve been there, this was the tightest competition I’ve ever seen,” Crowe said. “Everybody in this region did so well.”

Harris and Duke “should be extremely proud … for walking away with a trophy,” Crowe said. “It speaks to their high level of commitment to training and practice. Usually, it takes months of preparation and practice to do well in that type of competition.”

Crowe and German shepherd Charger, who turns 9 Sept. 5 and has been with Crowe since July 2011, left with a few trophies of their own, placing second in agility, third in searches and third overall. Crowe said it was their best performance ever in this competition, and the Canadian duo are now qualified for the national competition in Florida later this year.

“I’m happy for both of us,” Crowe said of buddy Harris.

Harris is now a K-9 trainer himself, and said he was very proud of Duke. He said he hopes to again take part in this competition, which takes place at different sites in Michigan each year, and he’s confident in the future that Duke can walk away with additional trophies.

Duke’s reward for a job well done? A weekend getaway on a lake.

“He had a blast,” Harris said. “It was his first time swimming for leisure (and not work).”

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