Dec 22, 2017
Cpl. Tony Hawpe and his K-9 partner Bella, recently picked up an award that is pretty tough to win.
Following meetings of the Heartland of America Police Dog Association, the team of Bella and Hawp were named master tracker.
“This is a difficult award to attain,” Hawpe said. “Bella is a very good human tracker and I had hoped that one day we would attain that award. ... It is really something to have.”
Each year, if a K-9 / Officer team shows excellence during their certification track, they could be selected to attempt a Master Track. There is no guarantee any team will be selected.
“They are judged on the skill of the handler, the skill of the dog to track ground disturbance, human odor or a combination of both,” said Eric Murphy, chief of police for Newton.
Upon completion of a judged track, a team is certified by the association. But to win master tracker, there is more work to be done. Judges select two or three teams to later compete in the master tracker event. Not all certified teams are selected, and there is no guarantee that the master tracking event will even happen.
“The master tracker event will not be held if they do not have enough teams or anyone they believe have met the qualifications,” Murphy said. “This alone is a great honor, to be picked as one of the top two or three.”
Once teams are selected for the master tracker event, a scenario is created for the team to attempt, and the level of difficulty is far and beyond what a police K-9 team would expect to face during a routine call.
Cpl. Hawpe and K-9 Bella faced a scenario of a vehicle pursuit where the suspect had run from officers, and an abandoned vehicle was found in a secluded area. The team was given no information upon their arrival.
Hawpe and K-9 Bella set to work in the pouring rain. The track circled back and K-9 Bella led Cpl. Hawpe back to the abandoned vehicle.
“She did a really good job,” Hawpe said. “I thought we would have a bad day because it was really pouring down rain. I can’t tell you how wet I was. I was wearing waterproof equipment and was still soaked.”
At the awards banquet where the Master Tracker award was announced, the judges indicated K-9 Bella followed the track perfectly turn for turn — though in exact reverse order of the track.