CROWN POINT — On Saturday, you just might hear someone say, "Contestants, start your noses."
That's because it's time for the annual American Police K-9 Association Sniff-Off, in which police dogs and their handlers from around the country compete to see who is the best at finding narcotics in three different locations: a vehicle, a room and a canister.
The animals are timed in how long it takes them to locate the hidden stash, and about 25 teams are expected to vie for the honor of top dog — and handler. Competitors from around Indiana, Illinois, Maine, South Carolina, Rhode Island and possibly a few more states are expected to participate.
The action will take place at two locations in Crown Point. The room and canister searches will be done at the Living Stones Church, at Pratt and Summit streets, and the vehicle searches will be at the Sportsplex. The host city will be represented by all three of its dogs, according to Officer Jeff Eldridge.
Eldridge will have a new dog. His K-9 partner of several years Buddy, who finished third last year, died, and Eldridge now is working with Bandit, a 20-month-old Dutch shepherd. The other local entries are Radar, a 6-year-old German shepherd owned by Officer Stanko Gligic, and Ace, a 4-year-old German shepherd owned by Officer Dave Wilkins.
Radar and Ace are veterans of the competition and have finished in the top 10 in recent years. The church has classrooms and a gym that can be used for the competition, which Eldridge, who will be participating in the competition for the sixth time, said is friendly and educational.
"Awards are given out there. There's a lot of ribbing, and a lot of congratulations," he said. "There's a lot of camaraderie. There's such a vast experience level with some of the officers having 25 years experience, and there are some newer handlers. We exchange information, and there's a lot of networking and helping each other out."