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By Lori Carter
Orlando Sentinel

LADY LAKE, Fla. - Once again, handler Lazaro Cabrera's purebred German shepherd is "Top Dog."
Cabrera, a K-9 officer with the Lady Lake Police Department for 21/2 years, took first place with Tarek at the recent United States Police Canine Association's National Competition in North Carolina.
The competition, which is also a certification to show control and proficiency in areas, brought more than 100 competitors from 65 different law-enforcement agencies across the U.S. Cabrera, 36, and Tarek, 41/2, scored 697.5 points out of 700.
During the three-day event, the team took first in obedience, article search, suspect search and criminal apprehension, and second in agility.
"When you're focused and in the middle of something, you can't absorb everything," Cabrera said of his thoughts while competing. "When you sit back, it's an unbelievable feeling. It's something I won't forget. I will always remember."

Model for other agencies
Lady Lake police Chief Ed Nathanson is pleased with the accomplishment and is eager to share with other agencies.
"I'm proud, honored and privileged to have Laz and Tarek as part of our agency and family," Nathanson said. "It's not uncommon to find someone in the parking lot representing different agencies from both in and out of state training with and from my K-9 guy."
Nathanson said his department along with other law-enforcement agencies work together on drug cases. He said recently a man ran inside a home that was not his and the homeowner ran out screaming.
Tarek was deployed. Within moments, the man was screaming, hiding under the bed, Nathanson said. Tarek was attached to the man's rear end.
In addition to certification requirements, Cabrera said he uses Tarek in narcotics detection and street scenarios. For example, the dog could assist in a felony traffic stop.

Hard work, but fun
Cabrera said he is allotted time for training each month from the department, but he puts in a lot of his own time with Tarek.
"It requires a lot of training," he said. "It's something I enjoy, and the responsibility I accepted when I became a K-9 unit."
Cabrera and Tarek qualified for the national event by placing first at the regional championship in April in Pensacola. It was the second year they had won the regional event. Before that, Cabrera took first at the event twice with Mischka, a K-9 that died in 2007.
"You're sort of nervous because you know people know you as a winner with another dog," he said. "As humans you want to compare your current dog to the last."

Easily hooked on dogs
A law-enforcement officer since 1995, Cabrera said he wasn't always part of a K-9 unit. For three years, he patrolled by himself. Then one of his colleagues mentioned the K-9 opportunity, so he applied.
"I knew nothing about dogs," he said. "When I went ahead and got my first dog, I was in love with it. I was a natural. It's like God has given me a gift with animals."
In 2000, he opened his business, Police Service Dogs, which imports 50 to 75 dogs yearly. He breeds, boards, trains and sells Belgian Malinois, Dutch shepherds and German shepherds.
"I realized it was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life," he said.

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