K9s being vetted for LHPD by local Girl Scout

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By Rachel Madison

Jillian Hamrick, a 15-year-old sophomore at Liberty Hill High School, just returned from Poland where she spent days testing and analyzing dozens of dogs with the potential to become a K9 for Liberty Hill Police Department.

Hamrick is working toward earning her Gold Award through the Girl Scouts of America, which is the highest award that can be earned as a Girl Scout. Hamrick, who is a senior member of Troop 40101, decided that for her Gold Award, she would train and donate a K9 to the LHPD. She partnered with Brad Langham, owner of Pacesetter K9 in Liberty Hill, to find the perfect pup for the job.

Over the last several months, Hamrick has learned how to train and handle a drug detector dog. She attended a 720-hour handlers’ course at Pacesetter alongside law enforcement officers from across the country. During her training, she learned how to lead a dog to search a room and a car for narcotics and has learned several Czech commands. She’s also learned how to search an open field, how to lead a dog to search for bombs, and what it’s like to be attacked by a K9. Langham donated all the training to Hamrick for her cause.

In October, Hamrick and Gina Giachetti, her troop leader and mother, went with Langham to Poland to pick out a group of dogs that had good potential for working as a K9 for the LHPD. Langham supervised the trip and showed Hamrick what to look for when choosing a dog.

Together, they ended up choosing six dogs that they felt had the most potential. The dogs were purchased by Pacesetter K9 and were transported across Europe, flown to Houston, and driven to Liberty Hill, where they were escorted by LHPD Officer Esteban Gomez-Sanchez to Pacesetter K9, where they will spend the next few months training.

“The trip was fun,” Hamrick said. “It was really interesting to watch the testing process.”

Langham said the testing process for the dogs involved throwing a ball in the field to see how the dogs run and search for the ball, and if they use their nose more than their eyes. They also watch to see if the dog needs help from its handler and if it’s confident enough to search furniture in a building, jump onto things, not spook at loud noises and navigate slick floors.

“We chose the best six dogs we could find,” he said. “[In Poland,] they work more on the developmental stuff. We do the fine tuning and training to find odors at Pacesetter.”

Langham and Hamrick have yet to choose the top dog for the job but hope to make that decision by next week. For now, they are still analyzing all six dogs and deciding which one will be the best fit for the LHPD. They are also waiting to hear which officer at LHPD will become the handler.

The dogs—Fido, Asta, Kendo, Rimon, Dragon and Rado—are all between one and two years old, and are either German shepherd, Dutch shepherd or Belgian Malinois breeds.

“I’ve got my idea of who the dog needs to be,” Langham said, “but we’ve got more testing to do to make sure the dog will fit. The dogs have only been here since Thursday, so we’re still getting them used to being here. The trip across Europe to the U.S. can be traumatizing for them.”

After selecting the best dog for the job, Hamrick will be working with the future K9 beginning in January to get it ready for its new job. The dog will be ready to work the streets by the end of January or beginning of February, Langham said. The other five dogs who aren’t selected for LHPD will still become K9s—but will be sold to other police departments from across the country.

The cost for Hamrick’s project, as well as the training for the K9, is approximately $5,000. Over the last several months, Hamrick has raised $4,300 through donations and selling paw balm at local farmer’s markets. She is still actively raising money.

To cover her trip to Poland, Giachetti pitched in another $1,000. In addition, veterinarian Todd Murphy of Sam Bass Veterinary Wellness in Round Rock—who is opening a veterinary clinic in Liberty Hill in 2022—donated full care for the K9 for the duration of its life.

“We are really just a couple hundred dollars short,” Giachetti said. “We are currently partnering with Scentsy and selling dog shampoo and spray. They are giving us $7 for every bottle we sell.”

Hamrick said she will be at Pacesetter whenever she can over the next few months to get the K9 ready for LHPD.

“I am also going to be writing lesson plans to send with the K9,” she said.

Hamrick said the lesson plan will provide sustainability to her project, which is a requirement of the Gold Award. She will put together a program that will help teach students across the community about the importance of K9s.

So far, Hamrick has spent 1,128 hours on her Gold Award, and is expecting many more hours ahead.

“Now the fun really begins,” Langham said.

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