Arkansas Game & Fish K-9 Unit Wins Manhunt Field Trials

Agency turns heads with use of Labs rather than beagles or bloodhounds

March 23, 2017

By Lisa Lakey

Despite being the only competing team from a conservation agency at the 18th Annual Southern States Manhunt Field Trials this month, an Arkansas Game and Fish k-9 unit placed first in the single-leash division.

K-9 Happy and his handler, Cpl. Jeremy Whiley, were one of six teams from the AGFC that placed in the top 20 at the event March 6-10. The Manhunt Field Trials brought in tracking dog teams from corrections units throughout the South to the Special Use Area at Camp Robinson in Mayflower, Arkansas, just northwest of Little Rock.

The AGFC units competed with teams from Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Missouri and Florida in events for pack trailing, multiple leash In addition to scoring a top spot at the trials, the AGFC’s teams stood out for yet another reason. They were the only units competing without bloodhounds or beagles.

Happy, the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission's champion K-9. (Photo courtesy AGFC)

“We use Labrador retrievers,” said AGFC Sgt. Tracey Blake. “So our teams got some strange looks when they first started going to these competitions. They’re competing with dogs that work with handlers every day, training to track down fugitives. But I think they’ve opened some eyes in the last few years.”

According to Blake, while the AGFC K-9 units are trained in tracking, they serve various roles for the agency.

“Our dogs are trained to sniff out firearms and game hunters stash in the woods when they see us coming,” Blake said. “Some were bought, but others are rescue dogs and duck dogs that didn’t make the grade. It’s amazing what some of them are capable of.”

And it’s that capability that saw good results at the field trials, and that makes these units so useful elsewhere in the state. K-9 Unit Coordinator Cpl. Gary Stell, who placed 5th in the single-leash event, said the dogs’ training revolves around search-and-rescue and tracking poachers, but they also assist sheriff’s offices and police stations throughout Arkansas.

“It can take a lot of time for one of the prison dog units to respond to some areas of the state,” Stell said, “but we can usually get on the track pretty quickly to start the trailing job.”

Arkansas Game and Fish placement in the single-leash event:

  • 1st – K-9 Happy and handler Cpl. Jeremy Whiley;
  • 5th – K-9 Lucy and handler Cpl. Gary Stell;
  • 9th – K-9 Daisy and handler Cpl. Jay Thomas;
  • 12th – K-9 Jazz and handler Cpl. Joe Williams;
  • 14th – K-9 Mollie and handler Cpl. Charles Rhodes;
  • 17th – K-9 Hank and handler Wildlife Officer First Class Billy Williams.