SAN BENITO — Samantha Neri, 22, from San Benito, is the youngest certified K9 handler in the country.
But she more than holds her own.
Neri competed against multiple statewide law enforcement agencies and came out with a third place overall finish at the U.I.S.D. fourth annual K9 narcotic detection competition held in Laredo recently.
We caught up with her and asked what it is about her job she likes and what’s coming up for her in the future.
Why do you like being a K9 handler?
I like it because it gives me the opportunity to work with my dog and work with other police officers. To me that is pretty awesome.
What was it like going up against all the different law enforcement officers and K9s at the competition?
It was nerve wracking and it was scary, but at the same time it was so much fun and I had a blast. It was pure joy when they announced I won third place. I wanted to cry.
What kinds of training do you offer K9s and can anybody do what you do?
Not everybody can do what I do. Only law enforcement can or private licensed security can be K9 handlers.
I train my dog to follow commands in German. It depends on what language I want them to work in to conceal my commands from other people.
For a common dog owner, what is the easiest command anyone can teach a dog?
The easiest command for anyone to teach their dog is to sit.
How long does it take to train K9s at a higher level beyond sit, roll, shake and fetch?
It depends on the dog. And for our narcotics work it takes me eight weeks to train a dog to search for narcotics. The dogs are able to be in public and won’t get nervous around people. I also train K9s basic obedience and patrol.
What are your future plans?
I am looking forward to participating in more competitions. I want to be a K9 officer for a local police department and I want to take my own personal K9 to work with me until she retires.
What is one of your most exciting stories while on patrol with your K9?
Callie is always on point. We went to the Island once and she just found a little bag of cocaine in the parking lot just dropped there. DPS called us to track a man who fled a car in a sugarcane field. My dog is an excellent tracker. There is no way anyone is going to get away from her. We have used her in law enforcement demonstrations.
What are K9s trained by you capable of doing?
If we point the dog at someone and give them the command they are going to take you down. They bite and they bite real hard. They are very social dogs and part of the family, but they also have that edge and working ability. My dogs are dual purpose. If they have to, they can protect their handler.
How many languages do you choose from to train K9s?
I train them in English, Spanish, German, Czech, French or Hungarian. I know just the commands. I’m doing more of a combination of French, German and Czech. Some of those commands are strong. I like to use Czech or French. I don’t like to use English because everyone knows what I just told the dog to do.