Cat owners beware! In less than two weeks police canine teams from across the continental United Statesand Canadawill converge on the City of Punta Gordafor the 42nd United States Police Canine Association (USPCA) National Field Trials. Judges, competitors, and their families will begin arriving for the national competition late next week. The national competition is being hosted by the Punta Gorda Police Department and the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office. The event, which will take place from Monday, October 15th through Friday, October 19th, will kick off with a competitors meeting on the Sunday night before the event begins.

 Punta Gorda Police Captain Jim Nichols, Past President of the USPCA and current Southwest Regional Vice President and Spokesman, is the lead coordinator for the national trials. Approximately 140 canine teams are expected to compete, according to Nichols. “The support from the Punta Gorda community has been overwhelming,” said Captain Nichols. “This City knows how to roll out the red carpet and host an event.” Hotels in Punta Gorda have filled, and organizers have had to arrange for overflow accommodations inPort Charlotte. According to Nichols, teams will participate in a number of phases of competition to include:


The handler and K-9 go through several phases of heeling, walking control and distance control.


The K-9 surmounts obstacles such as hurdles, A-frame, ladder, crawl and a six foot broad jump.

 Suspect Search

The K-9 searches six separate boxes with a suspect hiding in one box. The K-9 must check each box and alert the handler to the box the suspect is hiding in.

 Article Search

The K-9 has to search a 30 x 30 foot square where the grass is at least 24 inches high, and find two articles that he must pick up and bring to the handler outside the square. He must place the articles in his or her hand and the entire exercise must be completed within 3 minutes.


The final phase of the competition, with the first segment being straight apprehension (the K-9 catches the suspect), recall (the K-9 chases the suspect but is called back before he makes contact), and the false start (the suspect runs but the K-9 must watch, but not move). The last segment is apprehension with gunfire, with blanks being fired and the K-9 catching the suspect and holding him until the handler tells him to release. While the handler pats down the suspect, the K-9 watches and when the suspect assaults the handler, the K-9 will again engage the suspect and hold him until the handler tells him to release.        

 There will be 26 National Judges and Trainers here for the week to judge and exchange training ideas with the handlers. The judges have an average of 28 years of experience and come from as far away asMinnesota. While the handlers get a chance to learn many new ideas and training techniques, the most thrilling part of the week is to compete against their peers from around the nation and receive the Certificate of Excellence at the conclusion of the trials. The certificate is given to any team that attains a score of 560 total points out of 700 points.   

 As the week winds down, competitors will provide a Public Demonstration at the Charlotte Sports Park on CR 776 on Thursday, October 18th from 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. Observers will be treated to the traditional lighted procession of police vehicles beginning in the City and ending up at the Charlotte Sports Park prior to the demonstration. “It is a sight to see,” stated Captain Nichols. “It’s the officer’s way of saying thank you to the host community.”

 “The City ofPunta Gordahas truly stepped up to provide the ideal venue for this year’s national trials,” stated Punta Gorda Police ChiefButch Arenal. The Chief will be urging competitors to enjoy the amenities the City has to offer. “We will be encouraging participants to stay in town and experience our great restaurants, shops, and businesses,” stated Chief Arenal.

 National Field Trials generally cost somewhere in the vicinity of $35,000 to host. No taxpayer dollars are used to host the event, which is funded through sponsorships and t-shirt sales. Major community sponsors include the USPCA Foundation, Eukanuba, C1 Bank, Smugglers Enterprises, Inc., and  Inukshuk Professional Dog Food. Programs will be available at the events highlighting many other local community sponsors involved in the event.

 The community is encouraged to come out and enjoy the national showcase. National trials t-shirts not only support the week-long event financially; they are a great show of support for the officers and police dogs that put their lives on the line every day. A wide array of colors and designs are available, and shirts can be purchased at the Punta Gorda Police Department located at 1410 Tamiami Trail in Punta Gorda during normal business hours.

 The Punta Gorda Police Canine Team of Patrolman First Class Jonathan Mendel and K-9 Jedi will be competing in their first national event. The Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office Canine Team members will include SergeantJohn Heckand K-9 Atlas, Corporal Leonard Prevatte and K-9 Argo, Corporal Deryk Alexander and K-9 Ayko, Deputy First Class Lee Pressley and K-9 Vader, Deputy Firt Class Sean Franko and K-9 Azor, Deputy First Class Bill Maymon and K-9 Jager, Deputy First Class John Mills and K-9 Boba. These officers have trained and worked hundreds of hours getting ready for the National Trials and are looking forward to making the City and County proud.

 For more information on the event, members of the community can contact Captain Jim Nichols at (941) 639-4111 or