California State Parks used to have 16 K-9 teams across the state — each with a handler and highly trained dog. But because of budget cuts, there are now just 10. Five are based in San Luis Obispo County: three at Hearst Castle, one in Morro Bay and one in Oceano.
To pick up the slack from budget cuts, State Parks Rangers Daniel Gant and Rob Chambers, both stationed in this county, and Gant’s wife, Holly, founded the California State Park Canine Foundation in April 2012.
Now that foundation is seeking aid.
A screening of the documentary “Always Faithful” at Hearst Castle Theater June 14 will help fund the foundation’s efforts. Showing of the 70-minute movie about five U.S. Marine canine handlers and their dogs in Iraq and Afghanistan will benefit a foundation dedicated to supporting the work of all State Parks’ K-9s.
The nonprofit group will use proceeds from the showing of the film to support its mission, “to educate the public on the benefits of police service dogs in the parks and our surrounding communities, support additional training and equipment for active K9 teams and provide charitable assistance in caring for our retired K9 partners,” Daniel Gant said. “We want to give something back to the dogs who have served the public continuously since 1969.” State Parks began its K-9 program that year.
K-9 dogs are skilled at protecting their handlers, finding and apprehending uncooperative suspects and deterring crime. They also excel at capturing the hearts of the public. Local State Park teams each include a handler and a German shepherd trained in obedience, protection and tracking.
Three dogs based at Hearst Castle and Morro Bay are the only county K-9s cross-trained for explosive detection.
“(State Parks) canine teams provide security for Hearst Castle and the visitors as well as providing support to any incidents or events around the area and will travel to provide support to other parks throughout the state,” said Nick Franco, superintendent of the area’s State Parks district. “We have had canines at Hearst Castle for many decades now and they are extremely valuable members of our staff.”
A bombing by the New World Liberation Front, a domestic terrorist organization, caused $1 million in damages to a Hearst Castle guesthouse in 1976, but no one was injured.
“Our canines do provide a lot of local support since they are both protection and explosive-detection trained teams,” Franco said. “That is really an important point; it’s the team of the handler and the dog that makes them successful.”
Gant said the State Parks locally K-9 teams have recently “performed bomb sweeps for the governor and multiple special events, such as the recent Amgen Tour of California bike race stages that ended in Avila Beach on May 16 and at Mount Diablo State Park on May 18.”
And, he added, “One of the Castle dogs assisted in the apprehension of a homicide suspect in Cambria and another castle dog recently tracked and located a DUI hit-and-run driver at the request of … sheriff’s deputies.”
In the past couple months, the dogs have done bomb sweeps and security at the Big Sur Marathon, Cinco de Mayo events at Old Town State Historic Park in San Diego, and the Hangtown Motocross Race near Sacramento.