- Associated Press - Sunday, June 14, 2015

SPRINGFIELD, Ore. (AP) - Flex darted back and forth between a row of 5-foot-tall boxes spread across Springfield High School’s football field, searching for a scent.

The Springfield Police Department K-9 had no trouble detecting which box concealed a young girl, letting out a bark to alert his handler.

He may just be 2 years old and on the job for barely a month, but Flex stole the show Saturday. He dominated the 20th annual Springfield Police K-9 Competition.

But Saturday’s event was as much about giving the community a look inside the life of a police dog and its human handler as it was about crowning a K-9 champion. Flex may have mistaken his gold medal for a cookie, anyway.

“These are types of things that the dogs would be doing in real life,” Springfield police Sgt. Rich Charboneau said. “The biggest benefit here is for the citizens.”

More than 500 onlookers packed the football stadium bleachers to watch dogs from the Springfield Police Department, Lane County Sheriff’s Office and law enforcement agencies in Douglas and Washington counties compete in five events that tested the police dogs’ agility, speed, suspect capturing and search and rescue skills.

Each dog took turns navigating through obstacle courses and attacking “bad guys,” actually Eugene and Springfield police officers wearing padded clothing.

The competition is the largest fundraising event of the year for Springfield police’s canine unit. Volunteers sold shirts and hats and cooked up hot dogs, with proceeds going to the department.

But it also was clear the competition was a fan favorite for many. The football field’s parking lot was full before the show started, with more guests parking up and down Seventh Street.

“I come almost every year,” Springfield resident Madison Cook, 11, said. “I like watching how the people lead the dogs through all the events.”

Each dog works with a specific officer while on active duty. The five Springfield police dogs competing were each handled by an officer in the department.

Charboneau said the annual competition has raised $70,000 over the last eight or so years. Those funds have paid for the department’s last seven police dogs, which cost $10,000 each.

Flex is Springfield’s newest dog, joining the department in May. Led by officer Brian Keetle, he managed to capture a man hiding in a Springfield home with guns, drugs and a large amount of cash on just his fourth day on the job.

Flex and Keetle looked like savvy veterans on Saturday, winning four of the five competitions and placing second in the other.

The crowd gave the duo a standing ovation after they were announced as winners.

“It’s great to see how disciplined our police dogs are,” Springfield resident Duane Kellems said.


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