Hard work pays off for Calif. city's first female police-dog handler

By Kristina Davis

OCEANSIDE, Ca. – Officer Lindsay Bruce had trained months for this.

She built up her strength with intense workouts.

Over and over she hoisted an 80-pound bag of sand over her backyard wall, simulating how she would have to lift a large police dog in an emergency.

The hard work paid off last week when she became the first female K-9 handler to be certified in the Oceanside Police Department.

“It's a physically demanding job, whether you're male or female,” said Bruce, who is 5 feet 2 inches tall and 100 pounds.

Her new sergeant, Aaron Doyle, says her strength shouldn't be underestimated. She beat out two other officers, both men, for the open position on the team.

“She was selected because she was the best candidate,” Doyle said. “She's a great cop.”

Bruce, 29, was a teacher before joining the department four years ago. She says she is proud to have the distinction of becoming the department's first female handler since the unit formed in 1973, but also a little embarrassed.
“I'm just a regular police officer. It's not a big deal,” she said. “It was a challenging process, and I'm pleased with myself that I trained for something and accomplished my goal.”

There is only one other female K-9 handler, a San Diego police officer, working in the county, according to police.

Doyle said in Oceanside's case, few female officers have expressed interested in joining the unit.

Other agencies countywide, including San Diego police and the Sheriff's Department, have had a handful of female handlers over the years.

Bruce said she knew she wanted to become a K-9 officer after years of watching her husband, also an Oceanside police officer and a former K-9 handler, train his police dog.

Last week, Bruce and her new partner, a Belgian Malinois named Kato, got their first chance to hit the street together.
It was a homicide in eastern Oceanside, and they were called to search the neighborhood for weapons and clothing that the shooting suspects may have shed during their escape.

The coming weeks will be especially important as Bruce and her 65-pound partner work to develop a trusting relationship.

“The more you train, the better the bond is, and you can have confidence in your dog that he will protect you on the street,” Bruce said.

Like most K-9 handlers, she takes Kato home with her every night, but keeps him separated from the family's two other dogs – her husband's former police dog and a Chihuahua.

“He's very friendly, but he's a working police dog,” she said. “Not the family pet.”

Copyright 2007 San Diego Union-Tribune

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